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Friday, June 13, 2014

New stem cells may help in battling multiple sclerosis

Karen Weintraub, Special for USA TODAY

The great promise of stem cells may finally be getting close for multiple sclerosis patients.

Stem cells, which have the power to transform into other types of cells, have been much anticipated for more than a decade as a way to treat or even cure diseases like MS, Parkinson's, blindness and spinal cord injuries. But it's taken time to turn that promise into a workable reality.

Two new studies, both published in the journal Stem Cell Reports, suggest that researchers are getting close.

"We haven't landed on the moon yet, but we've tested the rockets," said Jeanne Loring, author of one of the studies and a professor and director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

Her study found that a certain type of stem cell, injected once into the spinal cords of mice with an MS-like condition, could dramatically improve the animals for at least six months.

The mice's immune systems almost immediately rejected and destroyed the cells, known as human embryonic stem cell-derived neural precursor cells. But the cells seemed to trigger a long-lasting benefit, dampening inflammation to slow the disease's progression, and repairing the damaged sheathing around nerve cells that is the hallmark of MS, according to Thomas Lane, a neural immunologist at the University of Utah who helped lead the research.

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