New grant to develop stem cell therapies for people with MS
Press release issued: 16 February 2004
A £250,000 grant for the development of stem cell treatments to repair damage caused by multiple sclerosis (MS) has been awarded to Neil Scolding, Burden Professor of Clinical Neurosciences at Bristol University, by the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
This is the first funding for stem cell research by the Society and is the latest in a large portfolio committed to finding its cause and cure and improving the quality of life for people with MS.
Professor Scolding is working on developing therapies for patients with multiple sclerosis that will repair damaged areas in the brain and spinal cord and allow lost functions to be restored.
There are two serious hurdles for such therapies: finding a suitable cell type to replace lost brain cells; and devising ways of delivering these 'repair cells' to the often large numbers of damaged areas in the brain and spinal cord that patients with chronic MS will have.
Stem cells have generated great excitement as one possible type of cell to be used in such therapies. While most research involves the use of embryonic stem cells, Professor Scolding and his team are exploring an alternative, adult source of stem cells.
'We now know that adult human bone marrow contains stem cells that can turn into those cell types that repair myelin, the insulating membrane lost in MS,' explains Professor Scolding.
'Additionally, recent research elsewhere suggests that bone marrow stem cells, when delivered into the bloodstream, can find their own way to damaged areas of the brain.'
Preliminary studies at Frenchay Hospital, undertaken in collaboration with Professor Jill Hows, have already established that stem cells can be grown in large quantities from adult human bone marrow, and that these can be turned into the types of brain cell which should be able to repair myelin.
The team now hopes to discover whether these cells will indeed repair myelin in collaborative studies with Professors David Wraith and James Uney. They will also assess whether there are any potential risks associated with using adult human stem cells in this way.
Professor Scolding, commenting on his grant, said: 'It is extremely generous of the MS Society to offer this support, which represents a further crucial step in the continuing development of MS research and treatment excellence at Frenchay.
'I am convinced that our studies on adult stem cells will accelerate the development of these important therapies for patients with this difficult and challenging disease.'
The Multiple Sclerosis Society is the leading UK charity supporting people affected by the most common disabling neurological disease striking young adults.