June 27, 2003
The Hartford Courant
The Cincinnati Post
Scientists at Yale think cells from bone marrow might hold promise for repairing nerve cells damaged by spinal cord injuries and diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
While the research is in its infancy and the technique faces huge biological and practical obstacles, the first safety testing in humans could begin within a year.
"The beauty of the potential use of bone marrow is you don't have to go into the brain to remove nerve (stem) cells," said Dr. Jeffery Kocsis, associate director of the Neuroscience and Regeneration Research Center of Yale University.
Kocsis and his colleagues, whose labs are on the grounds of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in West Haven, Conn., have already transplanted specialized stem cells from adult bone marrow into rats and produced substantial regrowth of important nerve cells.
The idea is especially tantalizing for the treatment of MS, a disease in which the body's immune system attacks and destroys a substance called myelin, the fatty coating that insulates nerve cells in the brain and enables impulse conduction.
Without myelin, nerves cannot effectively send messages to distant parts of the body. The destruction can cripple MS victims.
Dr. Timothy Vollmer, chairman of neurology at the Barrows Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Ariz., and one of the nation's leading MS researchers, called bone marrow stem cell transplantation among the most "attractive" approaches to repairing damaged nerve linings.
He said the potential in bone marrow may cut 10 years off the time it may take to develop a safe, practical and effective way to restore function in people disabled by MS.
Meanwhile, more intense physical therapy and recently discovered nerve cell growth factors may offer the most immediate hope for restoring function in MS patients.
While it has long been known that nerve cells naturally find new routes around damaged pathways, restoring function, Vollmer said he believes that more intensive physical rehabilitation combined with the growth factors will make the recovery more efficient.
Those approaches will be important while researchers work around the
ever-unfolding complexities of nerve regeneration.
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