New Hope for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) with Epidermal (Skin) Stem Cells

Multiple Sclerosis treatment with stem cells derived from the epidermis (skin)

To follow-up on medical breakthroughs via stem cell treatment from the previous post, Stanford University researchers have created cells from ordinary skin cells that could “rewrap” and protect nerve cells damaged in multiple sclerosis (MS), spinal cord injuries and other conditions.  The popular article was posted today, April 15th in the San Francisco Business Times.  The scientific research article can be found in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

This is monumental for those that are sufferers or have loved ones that suffer from MS.  I am an “empath” since my father suffered from a primary progressive form of MS.  Up until recently, the only available cutting edge techniques involved a combination of chemotherapy (see the many effects of chemo here:  effects of chemo) in junction with MS pharmaceuticals.  This was not an agreeable option for my father since MS left him with subpartial functionality of his limbs.   The magnitude of muscular functionality loss is dependent on the progression of the disease state in each individual.

The published research is ground-breaking for several reasons.  It will allow patients to use their own skin stem cells  to treat the demyelinated oligodendrocytes (see explanation below).  The treatment by one’s own skin stem cells will by-pass the need for immunosuppression and this research could produce cell therapy in as little as three weeks.  Dr. Marius Wernig, offers encouraging words when asked about the abundant amount of research focused on myelin:  “I think that these myelinating cells — or oligodendrocyte precursor cells, or OPCs — have a high chance of working after transplantation.”

Figure: Confocal visualization of central protein in myelin (PLP) in cultivated oligodendrocytes with an EGFP-tag (in yello-green) and an intracellular marker (in red).
Figure: Confocal visualization of central protein in myelin in cultivated oligodendrocytes with an EGFP-tag (in yello-green) and an intracellular marker (in red).

Oligodendrocytes are the myelinating cells of the central nervous system (CNS). They are the end product of a cell lineage which has to undergo a complex and precisely timed program of proliferation (rapid increase in numbers), migration, differentiation, and myelination to finally produce the insulating sheath of axons.  This insulating sheath (myelin) is important for the rapid conduction of electrical nerve impulses, which allows the neural signals to be efficiently sent and received.

Demyelinating disease is any condition that results in damage to the protective covering (myelin sheath) that surrounds nerve fibers in your brain and spinal cord. When the myelin sheath is damaged, nerve impulses slow or even stop, causing neurological problems.  As you can guess, the effects of this are devastating.


Bradl, M. & Lassmann, H. 2009. Oligodendrocytes: biology and pathology. Acta Neuropathol. 2010 January; 119(1): 37-53  Published online 2009 October 22. doi:  10.1007/s00401-009-0601-5