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Researchers from Italy report that skin tissue may hold promise for treating multiple sclerosis



The study, by Cecilia Laterza, PhD, Gianvito Martino, MD and colleagues at the San Raffaele Scientific Institute, Milan, and the University of Milan, was published today in Nature Communications


Milan, 29 october 2013 Italy - Researchers in Milan, reported that stem cells derived from mouse skin tissue were able to reduce nervous system damage in mice with a disease similar to multiple sclerosis, offering further evidence for the possibility that stem cells from patients might in the future be used for cell therapy to treat MS. The study, by Cecilia Laterza, PhD, Gianvito Martino, MD and colleagues at the San Raffaele Scientific Institute, Milan, and the University of Milan, was published today in Nature Communications.


The study was co-funded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Multiple Sclerosis Italian Foundation (FISM), MIUR Lombardy Region (NetLips Project), ELA Foundation, BMW Italy and NEUROKINE network (EU Framework 7 ITNproject).


Current therapies for MS reduce the immune system attacks that damage the brain and spinal cord, but they are not effective in progressive phases of the disease, when damage to the protective myelin coating on nerve fibers and the nerve fibers themselves may be widespread. Finding ways to repair the nervous system to restore function is a major research priority.


For this study the team used mouse skin stem cells and forced them through “cell reprogramming” to become myelin-making cells. This technique allows differentiated (specialized) cells, such as skin cells, to become embryonic-like stem cells which can become any kind of cell, including neural stem cells, the stem cells of the brain.


As in previous studies of this type, after the cells were infused into the spinal cord, they promoted recovery in mice with the MS-like disease EAE (experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis). Transplanted cells were able to reduce inflammation and protect the intact myelin from further damage, and were also able to foster the production of new myelin by the brain’s own cells. The team further showed that the protective effect was mediated by a soluble factor released by the transplanted cells, called “leukemia inhibitory factor.”


“Our discovery opens new therapeutic possibilities for multiple sclerosis patients because it might target the damage to myelin and nerves itself,” statedstudy leader Dr. Gianvito Martino.


“This is an important step for stem cell therapeutics,” noted Dr. Timothy Coetzee, Chief Research Officer of the National MS Society. “The hope is that skin or other cells from individuals with MS could one day be used as a source for reparative stem cells, which could then be transplanted back into the patient without the complications of graft rejection,” he added.


This is an important result for people with MS: rigorous basic science providing insights into the mechanisms involved in myelin and nerve damage is the only way to foster the discovery of new therapies for progressive forms of the disease,” noted Paola Zaratin, PhD, Director of Scientific Research at the Italian MS Society/Italian MS Foundation.


More work is needed, but this type of research gives hope that this strategy may eventually help restore lost function.Read more about research to repair the nervous system.


“There is still a long way to go before reaching clinical applications but we are getting there,” said Dr. Martino. “We hope that our work will contribute to widen the therapeutic opportunitiesstem cells can offer to patients with multiple sclerosis.”


About Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system, interrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million worldwide.


About the National Multiple Sclerosis Society
The Society mobilizes people and resources to drive research for a cure and to address the challenges of everyone affected by MS.  To fulfill this mission, the Society funds cutting-edge research, drives change through advocacy, facilitates professional education, collaborates with MS organizations around the world, and provides programs and services designed to help people with MS and their families move their lives forward.  In2012 alone, through its home office and 50-state network of chapters, the Societydevoted $122.1 million to programs and services that assisted more than one millionpeople. To move us closer to a world free of MS, the Society also invested $43.3 million to support more than 350 new and ongoing research projects around the world. The Society is dedicated to achieving a world free of MS. Join the movement at


iPSC-derived neural precursors exert a neuroprotective role in immune-mediated demyelination via the secretion of LIF. doi: 10.1038/ncomms3597 (2013).
Cecilia Laterza1, Arianna Merlini1,2, Donatella De Feo1,2, Francesca Ruffini1, RameshMenon1, Marco Onorati3, EvelienFredrickx4, Luca Muzio1, Angelo Lombardo5, Giancarlo Comi2, Angelo Quattrini6, Carla Taveggia4, Cinthia Farina1, Elena Cattaneo3&Gianvito Martino1


  1. Neuroimmunology Unit, Institute of Experimental Neurology (INSpe), San Raffaele Scientific Institute, 20132 Milan, Italy.
  2. Department of Neurology, Institute of Experimental Neurology (INSpe), San Raffaele Scientific Institute, 20132 Milan, Italy.
  3. Department of Biosciences and Center for Stem Cell Research, Università degli Studi di Milano, 20133 Milan, Italy.
  4. 4 Axo-Glia Unit, Institute of Experimental Neurology (INSpe), San Raffaele Scientific Institute,20132 Milan, Italy.
  5. San Raffaele TelethonInstitute for Gene Therapy, San Raffaele Scientific Institute, 20132 Milan, Italy.
  6. Neuropathology Unit, Institute of Experimental Neurology (INSpe), San Raffaele Scientific Institute, 20132 Milan, Italy.



San Raffaele Scientific Institute           

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National MS Society (USA)

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