Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, unpredictable neurological disease that affects the central nervous system – the brain, spinal cord and the optic nerves. MS is believed to be an autoimmune disease which causes damage to the protective sheath surrounding nerve fibers, called myelin. Damage to myelin interferes with messages between the brain and other parts of the body.
MS destroys myelin in multiple areas of the nervous system, leaving scar tissue called sclerosis. These damaged areas are also known as plaques or lesions. Sometimes the nerve fiber itself is damaged or broken.
Symptoms of MS vary from person to person and from time to time in the same person. For example, one person may experience abnormal fatigue, while another might have severe vision problems. A person with MS could have loss of balance and muscle coordination making walking difficult; another person with MS could have slurred speech, tremors, stiffness, and bladder problems. For some people, MS is characterized by periods of relapse and remission, while for others symptoms get progressively worse over time.
At present, there are several drug treatments that slow the disease
and reduce symptoms of MS – but there is still no cure.
Human and Social Costs
MS is one of the most common diseases of the central nervous system. About 400,000 Americans have MS and every week about 200 people are diagnosed. Worldwide, MS may affect 2.5 million individuals.
Anyone may develop MS, but there are some patterns. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. Two-three times as many women as men have MS.
Recent studies sponsored by the National MS Society show that annual direct and indirect costs of the disease for each affected individual averages $44,000 – and the total cost can exceed $2.6 million over an individual’s lifetime. For all people with MS in the United States, the annual cost exceeds $13 billion.
Other human costs associated with MS are the social, vocational and
emotional complications associated with the primary and secondary
symptoms. The diagnosis of a chronic illness can be damaging to self-esteem
and self-image. A person who becomes unable to walk or drive may lose
his or her livelihood. The strain of dealing with a chronic neurological
illness may disrupt personal relationships. In addition, people with
MS frequently experience mood swings and depression as primary, secondary,
or tertiary symptoms of the disease.
The Potential for Stem Cell Cures/Treatments
As in the case of other neurological diseases and injuries, such as Parkinson’s and spinal cord injury, stem cells offer the promising potential to repair and replace nerve and tissue damaged by MS. For example, recent studies at UC Irvine demonstrated in an animal model of MS that stem cells – partially changed into those that naturally produce myelin – achieved significant reinsulation of damaged nerve fibers. Animals receiving this stem cell transplant experienced improved motor skills, indicating that these cells had indeed restored some function to damaged nerves.
The recent discovery that neural stem cells exist in adult human brains raises the possibility that these stem cells could be used to make new myelin. MS investigators are also thinking of creating more myelin-makers by transplanting a fresh population of stem cells into the central nervous system. Some scientists have even speculated about treating stem cells with gene therapy to endow them with MS-fighting properties before transplanting them.
That’s why the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and other
MS groups and advocates strongly support stem cell research using
all human cell types that might further the development of treatments
and a cure for MS.
PARTIAL LIST OF SOURCES:
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society
"InsideMS: The Stem Cell Story."
"Stem cells stimulated by natural growth factor reverse damage, restore some function in adult brain." University of California, Irvine, College of Medicine
"Nerve tissue damage related to multiple sclerosis can be repaired, UC Irvine scientists find." University of California, Irvine, College of Medicine
"Adult stem cells tackle multiple sclerosis." NewScientist.com
"Stem cells help paralyzed mice walk: Injections appear to treat mouse multiple sclerosis." Nature Science Update.
"Brain Stem Cells Repair Tissues Attacked By Multiple Sclerosis." The Myelin Project
"Scientists use stem cells to cure MS in mice." New Zealand Herald
Publications Demonstrating Proof-of-Concept for Stem Cell Treatments for Multiple Sclerosis
- Totoiu MO. Keirstead HS. Remyelination,
axonal sparing, and locomotor recovery following transplantation of
glial-committed progenitor cells into the MHV model of multiple sclerosis.
Experimental Neurology (2004) 187: 254-265