0519 GMT January 29, 2020
Led by researchers at Case Western Reserve, a multi-institutional team used a new discovery approach to identify drugs that could activate mouse and human brain stem cells in the laboratory, Medical Daily said.
The two most potent drugs, one that currently treats athlete's foot, and the other, eczema, were capable of stimulating the regeneration of damaged brain cells and reversing paralysis when administered systemically to animal models of multiple sclerosis.
"We know that there are stem cells throughout the adult nervous system that are capable of repairing the damage caused by multiple sclerosis, but until now, we had no way to direct them to act," said Paul Tesar, PhD, the Dr. Donald and Ruth Weber Goodman Professor of Innovative Therapeutics, and associate professor in the Department of Genetics & Genome Sciences at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. "Our approach was to find drugs that could catalyze the body's own stem cells to replace the cells lost in multiple sclerosis."
Without myelin, neural signals cannot be transmitted properly along nerves; over time, a patient's ability to walk, hold a cup or even see is inexorably eroded. Current multiple sclerosis therapies aim to slow further myelin destruction by the immune system, but the Case Western Reserve team used a new approach to create new myelin within the nervous system.
The researchers developed a unique process to create massive quantities of a special type of stem cell called an oligodendrocyte progenitor cell (OPC). These OPCs are normally found throughout the adult brain and spinal cord, and therefore inaccessible to study. But once Tesar and his team could produce billions of the OPCs with relative ease, they could begin to test different existing drug formulations to determine which, if any, induced the OPCs to form new myelinating cells.