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Possible Cure For MS Turns Common Skin Cells Into Working Brain Cells 87

An anonymous reader writes "Scientists have discovered a way to convert ordinary skin cells into myelinating cells, or brain cells that have been destroyed in patients with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and other myelin disorders. The research, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, may now enable 'on demand' production of myelinating cells, which insulate and protect neurons to facilitate the delivery of brain impulses to the rest of the body."
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Possible Cure For MS Turns Common Skin Cells Into Working Brain Cells

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  • by plazman30 ( 531348 ) on Monday April 15, 2013 @11:12AM (#43452263) Homepage
    Now that you've made myelin, how do you get it to stick to actual damaged neurons and/or brian cells. If you inject it in there, is it naturally just going to bind to damaged cells?
    • Now that you've made myelin, how do you get it to stick to actual damaged neurons and/or brian cells. If you inject it in there, is it naturally just going to bind to damaged cells?

      Yeah, exactly. Otherwise I don't think clumps of myelin just floating around the brain are going to be a good thing.

      • It's always amazing how much of biology is self-assembling. to me, the question is, how do you keep whatever started the disease in the first place from continuing to destroy the new cells?

    • by OG ( 15008 ) on Monday April 15, 2013 @11:34AM (#43452477)
      The abstract indicates that the researchers injected the induced oligodendrocytes into mouse brains and they bound to unmyelinated neurons. I don't have access to the article, and I'm not going to pay for it, but perhaps someone else can provide the technical details. Still, it's a question that the authors address.
      • They used "shiverer" mice, a mutant line in which myelin of the central nervous system is affected, and these cells appear to rescue it.

        We studied the ability of 8TF-induced MEFs to myelinate axons of hypomyelinated shiverer (Mbpshi/shi) mice, which completely lack MBP and compact myelin and serve as a model of congenital dysmyelinating disorders...ultrastructural analysis by electron microscopy showed that the cells generated multilayered compact myelin sheaths around hypomyelinated shiverer host axons in slice culture

        If you're wondering, here is a link video showing why they're called "shiverer." Be forewarned, it's a little disturbing to watch them. I say that having done mouse brain research myself. The reeler mice I've seen in person (Er, seen in mouse) are actually kind of cute, they stagger around like they're drunk (not the best video, but here []. These shivering mice on the oth

        • PS. Got off topic there. Anyway, here is the figure in question [], I tested it on my phone, that shouldn't be behind a paywall. LM and N are the panels to focus on. It appears that not all the axons are myelinated, but the ones that are look like they're completely ensheathed.

          Searching for "shiver" I didn't see anything about a reduction in shivers in the treated mice. That would have been pretty huge had it rescued the "symptoms" of the condition, so I'm going to assume that at this first pass it was
          • Thanks for the link. A long time ago, I worked in a lab which did a much less sophisticated version of this experiment. They took oligodendrocyte precursor cells (a cell line called 02A), which were genetically engineered to express some kind of easily-seen marker protein (forget which one). The cells were isolated and cultured (which was a pain in the ass to do) from a special breed of non-shiverer mice with the marker protein. Then they were injected into the dorsal columns of shiverer mice, much like

  • by Anonymous Coward


  • Cool, this will turn your skin into an exobrain.
    • That gives "thinking with your dick" a whole new meaning! "Wow, how'd he solve that equation?" "With his penis..."
  • by organgtool ( 966989 ) on Monday April 15, 2013 @11:33AM (#43452473)
    The article wasn't clear on whether or not this could reverse the damage caused by MS or whether it would just prevent further damage. I know several people that suffer from this disease and it's utterly horrible. The worst case is my uncle who went from being in peak physical condition to requiring a cane or wheelchair to get around. He now stutters when he speaks, has trouble holding his head up, and can't keep his eyes still enough to even focus on words while trying to read. This disease slowly takes away all of your faculties and strips you of all autonomy and independence and a cure for it can't come fast enough.
    • by stereoroid ( 234317 ) on Monday April 15, 2013 @11:37AM (#43452505) Homepage Journal

      The damage done in MS is to the nervous system, and all that new myelin could do would be to prevent further damage. That's still very much worth pursuing if it allows a healing process to take place - whether natural or another man-made therapy.

      • Even if it only works as a preventative, it could be a huge step up from current treatment. The current standard for treating MS is interferon injections, which are expensive, not very effective, and come with a host of nasty side effects.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Untrue. The symptoms of MS are due to demyelination. Current treatments reduce the inflammatory response and therefore further myelin destruction but do nothing to rebuild the destroyed myelin. Remyelinating the neurons is the missing step in MS treatment.

        • by Willuz ( 1246698 ) on Monday April 15, 2013 @12:45PM (#43453173)
          Exactly right, this is just a way of repairing damage already caused by MS and does not "cure" or slow the disease at all. Still an important step though, since damage is permanent for most people.

          It's easiest to think of MS as mice chewing the insulation off the wiring in your car resulting in short circuits and lost signals. Curing the disease would be getting rid of the mice. This treatment is like taking your car to the shop to have the wiring replaced, but the car is still full of mice that will eat the wiring again. The current treatments for MS just put the mice (mostly) to sleep, but they're still there and could awake at any time and some people's mice are more resistant than others.
          • In your analogy, you need both to get rid of the mice, and repair the wiring.
            This is part of the solution.
            I have some friends with MS, and even this partial patch job would be a vast improvement, even if it has to be repeated occasionally.
            • Serious question: Does the body repair the wiring (myelin sheath) at ALL by itself?

              Is this just eating the insulation faster than it can regrow, or does it not regrow at all?

      • Not sure why you're modded funny. You are probably correct, in that this therapy wouldn't reverse the effects, at least not immediately. Whether the body can heal on its own (albeit slowly), or there needs to be some other complementary procedure that would actively reverse the effects of MS is probably an area that warrants further study.

        Mods? Are you playing mod-roulette today?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      A bit of both, at least if it works -
      For neurones lacking mylin slows signals and increases the capacity for crosstalk among other things, in addition to these problems this can cause connections to be lost eventually leading controlled cell suicide (apoptosis).
      The reduced efficiency will be repaired allowing the neurons left to talk properly again, at least if it works - this should cause some recovery, potentially quite a bit.
      Dead neurons do get replaced but only at a very slow rate, so any neuronal die-o

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Monday April 15, 2013 @12:46PM (#43453181)

      It's not going to prevent further damage. This certainly isn't a cure or potential cure for MS, but if it works well it might help fix some of the damage that's been done. Some. Axons die in MS, and this won't replace them. There's good evidence that a lot of the actual damage is due to neuronal damage and not a failure to remyelinate.

      • It's a treatment that has the potential to restore some functionality. It's kind of like bailing a boat. It doesn't fix the root problem, but it might restore some functionality and definitely slows the worsening of the situation and puts off the eventual undesirable termination.
        • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

          Not necessarily. There has been quite a bit of work on transplanting oligodendrocytes and their precursor cells, including stem cells. That hasn't yielded any real results. Other research has shown that there really isn't a shortage of oligo precursor cells. There are some axons that don't remyelinate but a big source of damage seems to be axons that are permanently damaged or die when they're demyelinated.

          It's interesting and might be useful, but it might equally well turn out not to be useful in MS at

    • This research has potential to become a treatment to repair the lesions in the brain caused by MS.

      From the second linked article:

      In multiple sclerosis, the destruction of oligodendrocytes and myelin results in symptoms such as loss of balance, problems moving arms and legs, loss of coordination and weakness, according to the National Institues of Health. Other problems include loss of bladder control, impaired vision, depression, and memory loss.

      To fix these problems, not only must the autoimmune reaction b

  • by kilodelta ( 843627 ) on Monday April 15, 2013 @12:22PM (#43452963) Homepage
    Since ALS aka amaotrophic lateral sclerosis is caused by de-myelnizing of the nerve fibers - you could probably cure that too.

    And since I have a slight risk this is good news.
    • by chooks ( 71012 )

      FYI - ALS is primarily a neurodegenerative disease where the neurons themselves are dying off and not a demyelinating disease where the neurons remain intact but loose their myelin sheath.

  • by Guppy ( 12314 ) on Monday April 15, 2013 @01:02PM (#43453301)

    Just a quick walk-through of the first section of the paper:

    Cell-based therapies for myelin disorders, such as multiple sclerosis and leukodystrophies, require technologies to generate functional oligodendrocyte progenitor cells. Here we describe direct conversion of mouse embryonic and lung fibroblasts to induced oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (iOPCs) using sets of either eight or three defined transcription factors.

    The Slashdot summary and 3rd party source says "skin cells", but the paper indicates the specific cell type used were "mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs)"; specifically, they were MEFs isolated from a transgenic mouse lineage where a specific transactivator had already been engineered into their genome. This transactivator was designed to work together with the introduced Lentivirus vector (a retrovirus, member of the genus to which HIV belongs), carrying the Oligodendrocyte Progenitor Cell (OPC) transcription factors.
    In a later section of the paper, they perform a similar process with "mouse lung fibroblasts" (MLFs), and also test several different combinations of transcription factors.

    iOPCs exhibit a bipolar morphology and global gene expression profile consistent with bona fide OPCs. They can be expanded in vitro for at least five passages while retaining the ability to differentiate into multiprocessed oligodendrocytes.

    Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck. Can be expanded into a flock while still retaining duck-ness.

    When transplanted to hypomyelinated mice, iOPCs are capable of ensheathing host axons and generating compact myelin. Lineage conversion of somatic cells to expandable iOPCs provides a strategy to study the molecular control of oligodendrocyte lineage identity and may facilitate neurological disease modeling and autologous remyelinating therapies.

    Induced OPC cells integrate into their normal niche, insulating neurons (at least at the cellular level). Didn't see much discussion of whether or not it altered the hypomyelinated ("shiver" mouse) phenotype.

    • The Slashdot summary and 3rd party source says "skin cells", but the paper indicates the specific cell type used were "mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs)"

      Well, fibroblasts are common in the skin, and you can easily get fibroblasts from taking a small patch of skin. You're right that they're not the keratinized cells that make up most of the skin, but they are in the skin.

      Induced OPC cells integrate into their normal niche, insulating neurons (at least at the cellular level). Didn't see much discussion of whether or not it altered the hypomyelinated ("shiver" mouse) phenotype.

      It did restore at least some myelination [] but not all of the axons, and I didn't see anything about it improving the shivers.

  • Since I live the dream, I can only hope that there is some truth to this and that there may be hope for some. I have the rarest kind of MS and so there are NO treatments for it. Research, where you at? Where is my magic pill?
  • Now we have proof. A guys brain sits at the end of his cock.

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel