Unlocking stem cells’ full potential for treating multiple sclerosis

River D'Almeida, Ph.D
5 min readJan 28, 2022

Highs, lows and future opportunities from OHRI’s MESEMS trial

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Article via Signals Blog

Cells that are programmed to protect can sometimes go rogue, as is the case with multiple sclerosis, or MS. Overactive immune cells mistakenly target the tissues of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves, igniting inflammatory flare-ups that destroy myelin, a fatty insulating material that encapsulates nerve fibers.

Over time, nerves lose their ability to transmit signals, and mobility, cognitive functions and vision take a serious hit.

There is no known cure for MS but researchers believe that by harnessing the natural healing properties of stem cells, they may offer hope to the 2.8 million MS patients worldwide. Canadian researchers have led global research efforts to investigate whether mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can slow symptom progression and perhaps even repair central nervous system damage and restore function.

“The fact that we showed the ability to obtain MSCs, grow them successfully in a laboratory, and put them back safely into patients in numerous different countries is no small feat.”

A recently published report featured in The Lancet Neurology describes outcomes from MEsenchymal StEm cells for Multiple Sclerosis (MESEMS)-an international, multi-site clinical trial led by neurology expert Prof. Mark Freedman from The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

MESEMS yielded a mixed bag of results. There were triumphs, disappointments and new questions to spur future studies. I caught up with Dr. Freedman to take a deep dive into the study’s results and what this means for the future of cell therapies for MS.

Dr. Freedman has dedicated over 25 years to helping MS patients and he is recognized for his exceptional contributions to stem cell research alongside fellow stem cell pioneer, Dr. Harold Atkins. His interest in MS was sparked during his neurology residency when he received the devastating news that a former colleague had been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease. A heart-to-heart conversation with his friend…

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River D'Almeida, Ph.D

Follow me for bite-sized stories on the latest discoveries and innovations in biomedical research.