Stem Cells: A World of Possibilities
Multiple Sclerosis is a devastating disease which affects, on estimate, 2.5 million people word wide. Roughly 80% of these individuals survive over 20 years after their initial diagnosis. To develop an understanding of what Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is, take into consideration a simple cable. The most basic cable is composed of a single copper wire and a plastic outer layer which surrounds it. The outer plastic layer is responsible for insulates the copper wire which then allows free moving electrons to pass through without being affected by the outside environment. If this insulated layer were not present, the free electrons would dissipate and the wire would be far less effective. In the case of nerves, the plastic outer layer is analogous to the myelin sheath and the copper wire is analogous to the Axon. Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder in which white blood cells kill the myelin sheath which surrounds the nerve’s axons making nerve far less effective and eventually entirely dysfunctional. The two major areas in which Multiple Sclerosis take its greatest affect is in the central nervous system consisting of the spinal cord and brain stem, and the brain itself. Multiple Sclerosis causes inflammation of the nerve scaring in the myelin sheath which both affects action potential transmission along axons.
There have been a number of methods proposed for treating Multiple Sclerosis, some of which include using interferon-beta products which focus on repairing the blood brain barrier and reducing inflation in sites that are being affected; monoclonal antibodies which “block the receptors on white blood cells that allow them enter the brain and spinal cord”; mitoxantrone which suppresses T-Cell and B-Cell; and steroid treatments which can reduce swelling of the nerve. There is also one newly proposed method for treating MS that is not yet currently in practice, and this is through regenerative medicine. (MSF)
Regeneration and repair are two very different and independent processes in the body. Repair is a method by which the body fills an area where there are missing cells with scar tissues; this scar tissue is considered substandard to the “healthy” tissue around it. Scar tissue can lack certain functionality such elasticity in the case of skin or adequate density in the case of bones. Such scar tissue in the case of MS can prohibit or weaken the transmission of signals along neurons. Regeneration on the other hand, is process by which the body replaces missing cells with same-like cells to the cells around it. These cells do not lack in functionality and are considered as adequate to the cells around them. This amazing process of regeneration is made possible through use of stem cells. (Jill Helms)
A stem cell is a cell which possesses the ability differentiate into any other cell in the human body, be it a skin cell, muscle cell, or even a nerve cell. There are two major categories of stem cells including Adult Stem Cells and Embryonic Stem Cells; they have a variety of differences and advantages. One significant difference is their potency, or the ability by which they can differentiate to become other cells in the body. Adult stems are pluripotent, possessing the ability to differentiate into a specific type of cell; more than likely the type of cell from the cell mass from which they were derived. For example, a mammary stem cell possesses the ability to differentiate into a cell found in breast tissue; placed in skin tissue the cell would likely not develop into a skin cell; the reason being, adult stem cells somehow remember the cell mass from which they belonged. Embryonic stem cells conversely are said to be multipotent, possessing the ability to differentiate into any cell in the human body. The reason that embryonic stem cells are so diverse is in part due to the area from which they were derived. As their names imply, adult stem cells are derived from the adult body, but embryonic stem cell are derived from a developing embryo, more specifically from a blastocyst. A blastocyst contain an inner cell mass where a very few number of embryonic stem cells reside ready to be differentiated into other parts of the fetus. Extracting these cells was the topic of great controversy, but thankful adult stem cells are a viable option. Adult stem cells are distributed to every tissue in the embryos body and are carried with us into adulthood. It was a matter of locating these stem cells and growing them in cartridges that was once scientists’ greatest challenges; today this can be done with relative ease using a complex series of chemicals. Furthermore, recent lab experiments have developed techniques where by introducing four genes (Oct 3/4, Sox 1/2/3/15/18, KIF 1/2/4/5 and Nanog) into a pluripotent adult stem cell, the cell can be restored back to its original multipotent embryonic stem cell state. (Jill Helms)
Given all of this information, one can assume that regenerative therapy has amazing applications when it comes to multiple sclerosis. What if modern medicine could somehow replace the damaged myelin sheath with new cells derived from pluripotent adult stem cells? Fortunately, the Fred Hutchinson and Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago and the leading institutions in clinical trials revolving around using regenerative therapy to treat autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis, systemic sclerosis and systemic lupus. These clinical studies have shown significant results in the symptoms that are caused by autoimmune disease and have even shown the reversal of some of the damage that these diseases can cause to the human body. (fhcrc) We can only hope for better improvement and better treatment of these conditions in the future by institution such as these for to this day, there is no known cure for MS.
“There Is Such a Big Difference in My Life Now.” Quest.fhcrc.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
Stem Cells & Tissue Regeneration. Prod. Standord University. Perf. Dr. Jill Helms.YouTube. YouTube, 04 Feb. 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
“Learn About Multiple Sclerosis.” MSF. Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
By: Andreas Savva, Cariloop Intern