Can stem cells repair nerve damage?

12 November 2013

Question

Can you regrow the insulating sheath around nerve cells?

Answer

Chris - Danny has got in touch from Facebook and he's saying, is it possible to regrow the myelin sheath around axons with stem cells? So, in other words, the stem cells that you're finding how to re-activate, have you got evidence that you can in a human remyelinate damaged nerves?

Luke - With our drug, we don't have the in vivo human data, of course, yet. We'll need clinical evaluation for that, but there is in vitro and in vivo data both in rodent and man that these stem cells are capable of repairing damaged axons and remyelinating. So yes, there is data for that.

Hannah - Thanks ever so much, Luke. Alastair, I believe that you've been working with someone who's also working on regrowing myelin sheath.

Alastair - Well, we read Luke's work recently in the journal Nature with great interest and it's really fantastic that there are now agents being identified, albeit still in animal models, which have the potential to enhance remyelination. So, as medical scientists, neurologists, we're very optimistic that molecules, drugs if you like, will become available which can help the body to repair itself to improve, as we say, endogenous remyelination. The anticholinergic drug that Luke discussed is one such, and there are others. In our own university, here in Cambridge, Robin Franklin has identified some molecules which are in the same general family of improving endogenous remyelination. I'm sure that these will gain interaction and make it to licenses in due course, but that will be a slow process.

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