Multiple Sclerosis, also known as disseminated sclerosis, is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks myelin sheaths that surround and protect nerve cells. The damage leads to demyelination and scarring which leaves the nerves exposed and unable to send signals to the brain and back, resulting in the loss of motor skills, coordination, vision, and cognitive abilities. There is no specific treatment exists for patients with MS who fails to respond to conventional immunosuppressive and immunomodulating treatment strategies, which include the use of corticosteroids, interferon and non interferon – non steroidal immunomodulator. And more recently humanized monoclonal antibody immunomodulator, natalizumab. (commercial name Tysabri)
Over the last decade, Stem Cell Transplantation (SCT) has emerged as a popular potential therapeutic choice for numerous progressive autoimmune and neurological disorders. However only hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) have been studied in great detail, scientists know little about how they modulate the immune system and promote tissue repair in living organisms.
According to research, published in May 20th issue of Nature Neuroscience, a growth factor produced by hMSCs fights MS in two ways: blocking a destructive autoimmune response and repairing neuronal damage. The finding could help advance ongoing clinical trials testing hMSCs as a therapy for MS. The researchers have identified a unique factor “Hepatocyte Growth Factor” (HGF) and its primary receptor cMET, has surprisingly potent activity mediating neuron repair in induced experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) in mouse models.
In 2009, Miller’s lab. reported that hMSCs dramatically reversed the symptoms of multiple sclerosis in a mouse model of the disorder. The team hypothesized that the stem cells suppress the immune response and promote remyelination. However, the mechanism involved was not clear. To find out, team isolated the medium on which the hMSCs were grown to determine if the cells or something they secreted was responsible for the observed recovery. The medium alone was enough to induce recovery in mice, pointing to the latter.
To find out exactly which molecule or molecules in the medium were responsible, the researchers separated the proteins in the fluid based on the molecular weight and injected each isolate into mice exhibiting symptoms of MS. The mid-weight solution, of proteins with masses between 50 and 100 kilodaltons (kDa), caused recovery.
They identified hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), a cytokine made by mesenchymal cells that has been shown to promote tissue regeneration and cell survival in numerous experiments. Sure enough, HGF alone was enough to promote recovery in the MS mouse models, and blocking the receptor for HGF in those mice blocked recovery. The team also demonstrated that HGF suppresses immune responses in vivo and accelerates remyelination of neurons in vitro. Finally, they saw that HGF causes remyelination in rats with a lesion on their spinal cord.
A clinical phase trial study published in June issue of Multiple Sclerosis Journal report that autologous HSC transplantation (AHSCT) with a BEAM/ATG conditioning regimen, help the subjects in not only slowing down the progression of diseases but also in continued clinical improvement, especially if subjects are still in the relapsing-remitting phase of the diseases.
Mancardi et.al along with Italian BMT Study Group reports the long term follow-up findings from the data obtained from the European Group for Blood and Marrow Transplantation (EBMT) registry. Six centres come along to organize a phase I/II study, aimed to evaluate the outcomes of AHSCT on MRI markers. Later, the patients were subjected to BEAM/ATG conditioning regimen and outcomes were reported to EBMT registry and two leading haemato-neurological centres in Italy. The study was approved by local ethics committee and based upon EBMT guidelines.
After the transplant procedure, all patients were examined every 3 months for first two years and then at least once a year in subsequent period. The study constituted of 74 patients and the median follow-up period of 48.3 (range 0.8 – 126) months. The evaluation is based upon the clinical and MRI outcomes.
Transplant related mortality include early toxic effect found in 80% of total cases, which include neuropenic fever (70%), sepsis (30%), UTI (25%) and diarrhea and severe mucositis (15%). During neuropenic period related fever, transient worsening of neurological symptoms with headache, fatigue, deterioration of motor and sensory symptoms were found in 50% of cases.The study reports that, after 5 years, two-third remained stable and shows improved outcomes. With follow up time more than 1 yr, 31% of patients with relapsing-remitting course confirmed EDS scale improvement >1 point after AHSCT when compared to 3% which have secondary progressive disease course. In seven year long follow-up of 18 subjects, 44% remained stable and sustained improvement while rest of the subjects after initial stabilization or improvement with mean period of 3.5 shows slow disability progression.
There are currently several clinical trials testing the potential of Stem Cells in MS patients around the world, including a phase I trial at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio that emerged from the work in Miller’s lab which is based upon hMSCs. The large cohorts like EBMT consistently evaluate the outcomes of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation.
With the knowledge adding up which provides us with the insight behind the mechanism of stem cell therapy is like fixing up the cubes into a puzzle based upon which new therapeutic targets come into play. Whereas the measuring the outcomes from large cohort studies not only help us in evaluating the efficacy of a procedure/ clinical practice but also tells us about the hurdle they face in population, which is to be resolved in laboratory. With favorable results building up, the question is “Will Stem Cell therapy be able to Cure Multiple Sclerosis In Near Future?”
Bai L, Lennon DP, Caplan AI, Dechant A, Hecker J, Kranso J, Zaremba A, & Miller RH (2012). Hepatocyte growth factor mediates mesenchymal stem cell-induced recovery in multiple sclerosis models. Nature neuroscience PMID: 22610068
Mancardi G, Sormani M, Di Gioia M, Vuolo L, Gualandi F, Amato M, Capello E, Currò D, Uccelli A, Bertolotto A, Gasperini C, Lugaresi A, Merelli E, Meucci G, Motti L, Tola M, Scarpini E, Repice A, Massacesi L, Saccardi R, & the Italian BMT Study Group (2012). Autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation with an intermediate intensity conditioning regimen in multiple sclerosis: the Italian multi-centre experience. Multiple sclerosis (Houndmills, Basingstoke, England), 18 (6), 835-842 PMID: 22127896