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More MS news articles for August 2003

Regrowing Spinal Insulation

Cells rejuvenate damaged nerves

August, 2003
Jim Wilson
Popular Mechanics

Scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis say they have produced cells that can repair nerve damage associated with spinal cord injury, stroke and multiple sclerosis. The cells, called oligodendrocytes, repair myelin, the fatty insulating material surrounding axons. Axons are the wispy structures that carry electrochemical signals through nerves. Much as a garden hose riddled with holes will lose its ability to carry water, an axon stripped of myelin will lose its ability to convey a signal.

"This is the first demonstration that oligodendrocytes derived from embryonic stem cells can remyelinate [damaged nerves] in the injured adult nervous system," says Dr. John McDonald, who is an assistant professor of neurology and neurological surgery. "That is relevant because conditions that result in myelin loss occur mainly in adults. Remyelinating otherwise intact axons might be a practical way of helping spinal cord patients improve functions such as bladder control or limb movement."

The experiments were performed on lab rats that received chemically induced spinal injuries. It will be years, perhaps as long as a decade, before any practical treatment is available for humans. On the positive side, oligodendrocytes can be produced in virtually unlimited quantities, says McDonald. See "Saving Shattered Spines: Chemical Culprit Prevents Spinal Nerves From Healing."

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