Could Reprogrammed Cells Fight ‘Untreatable’ Diseases?

Posted: August 28, 2014 at 1:40 pm

By Ciara Curtin

Jeanne Loring and her Scripps Research Institute colleagues transplanted a set of cells into the spinal cords of mice that had lost use of their hind limbs to multiple sclerosis. As the experimentalists expected, within a week, the mice rejected the cells. But after another week, the mice began to walk.

We thought that they wouldnt do anything, says Loring, who directs theCenter for Regenerative Medicineat Scripps. But as her lab has since shown numerous times, and published in Stem Cell Reports, something that these particular so-called neural precursor cells dobeforethe immune system kicks them out seems to make the mouse better.

The cells Lorings team used are derived from induced pluripotent stem cells, which are mature cells, such as skin cells, that have been coaxed with a combination of chemicals to return to an earlier stage of development.

Induced pluripotent cells, also known as iPS cells, pose a number of opportunities for medicine. For instance, Loring is using iPS cells from Parkinsons disease and multiple sclerosis patients to reconstitute cell types that may be damaged in people with those conditions. She is also using them to test how certain drugs or treatments may affect damaged cells in people with conditions such as autism spectrum disorders.

Loring (front row, center) with the Loring Lab Group at the Center for Regenerative Medicine

Loring says no viable long-term treatments exist for the diseases her team has been working on, including Alzheimers disease, Parkinsons disease, and multiple sclerosis, Thats where the need is, she says.

The neural precursor cells that Loring has been using in the mice with MS are young cells that havent quite gotten to the point of being nerves yet. Only certain types of these cells have such a dramatic Lazarus-like effect on the affected mice, but Lorings team can readily identify them based on DNA analysis.

Even so, theyre not yet ready to treat human MS patients with the approach, she says. First, the researchers want to identify what the cells producea protein, perhaps, or a set of proteinsthat allows the mice to walk.

For other diseases, however, researchers are closer to being ready to transplant working versions of reprogrammed cells into sick people.

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Could Reprogrammed Cells Fight 'Untreatable' Diseases?

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