Alliance-Funded Study Shows that Stem Cells Derived from Skin Cells of People with MS Make Normal Nerve-Insulating Myelin

Background: An international research team headed by Dr. Anne Baron-Van Evercooren (INSERM, Paris), in collaboration with Dr. Tanja Kuhlmann (University Hospital Münster), Dr. Jack Antel (McGill University, Montreal), and Dr. Gianvito Martino (San Raffaele Hospital and Vita San Raffaele University, Milan) published results that open new possibilities for developing ways to repair myelin in people with multiple sclerosis. Myelin is a coating that improves nerve conduction and is damaged during the course of multiple sclerosis. The brain has spare stem cells, called oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs), that are capable of moving to damaged areas, becoming mature myelin making cells (oligodendrocytes), and producing and wrapping new myelin around axons. However, at some point during the MS disease process, myelin repair stalls. It is not clear whether repair stalls because of some fault in the OPCs themselves, or some fault in the environment of MS lesions, such as toxic immune activity.

Research: The research team tested the ability of OPCs to form myelin in mice with a myelin deficiency. They took skin cells from three people with MS and three people without MS. They used what is becoming standard technology to reverse-program the skin cells to become stem cells -- “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPSCs), which were further coaxed to become young OPCs. These “induced” OPCs were then injected into the nervous systems of the mice, and the cells’ movements and activities were traced. The researchers found no difference in the behavior of OPCs derived from MS skin cells and those from healthy individuals. These results imply that MS does not change the inherent capacity of oligodendrocytes to repair myelin, and that the fault is more likely the brain environment. In addition to immune factors, other factors that have been implicated in myelin repair failure in MS include aging and axonal damage.

Potential Impact: This study adds important evidence about the potential for myelin repair in MS, and also suggest that iPSCs derived from skin or other cells of people with MS may be a viable source of cells for myelin repair therapy in the future. Research using iPSCs is still in its infancy as studies proceed to determine whether any types of stem cells can reverse MS damage and restore function.


This research was published in Science Advances on December 4, 2020, refer to article: “Multiple sclerosis iPS-derived oligodendroglia conserve their properties to functionally interact with axons and glia in vivo”

About the International Progressive MS Alliance

The Alliance exists to accelerate the development of effective treatments for people with progressive forms of multiple sclerosis to improve quality of life worldwide. It is an unprecedented global collaboration of MS organizations, researchers, health professionals, the pharmaceutical industry, companies, trusts, foundations, donors and people affected by progressive MS, working together to address the unmet needs of people with progressive MS ─ rallying the global community to find solutions. Our promise is more than hope, it is progress.

MS Society of Canada is a member of the International Progressive MS Alliance and supported this study.

NOTE: Dr. Baron-Van Evercooren is a co-investigator on the Collaborative Research Network (BRAVEinMS) led by Dr. Martino. The Network, supported by the International Progressive MS Alliance, also collaborates with the research groups led by Dr. Kuhlmann and Dr. Antel, and others.