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Lancet. 2013 Oct 5;382(9899):1204-13. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)61810-3.

Cell therapy for multiple sclerosis: an evolving concept with implications for other neurodegenerative diseases.

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University of Bristol Institute of Clinical Neurosciences, Burden MS Stem Cell Laboratories and BrAMS Unit, Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, UK.


Multiple sclerosis is a major cause of neurological disability, and particularly occurs in young adults. It is characterised by conspicuous patches of damage throughout the brain and spinal cord, with loss of myelin and myelinating cells (oligodendrocytes), and damage to neurons and axons. Multiple sclerosis is incurable, but stem-cell therapy might offer valuable therapeutic potential. Efforts to develop stem-cell therapies for multiple sclerosis have been conventionally built on the principle of direct implantation of cells to replace oligodendrocytes, and therefore to regenerate myelin. Recent progress in understanding of disease processes in multiple sclerosis include observations that spontaneous myelin repair is far more widespread and successful than was previously believed, that loss of axons and neurons is more closely associated with progressive disability than is myelin loss, and that damage occurs diffusely throughout the CNS in grey and white matter, not just in discrete, isolated patches or lesions. These findings have introduced new and serious challenges that stem-cell therapy needs to overcome; the practical challenges to achieve cell replacement alone are difficult enough, but, to be useful, cell therapy for multiple sclerosis must achieve substantially more than the replacement of lost oligodendrocytes. However, parallel advances in understanding of the reparative properties of stem cells--including their distinct immunomodulatory and neuroprotective properties, interactions with resident or tissue-based stem cells, cell fusion, and neurotrophin elaboration--offer renewed hope for development of cell-based therapies. Additionally, these advances suggest avenues for translation of this approach not only for multiple sclerosis, but also for other common neurological and neurodegenerative diseases.

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