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Stem Cells Offer Potential Multiple Sclerosis Treatment

Cells that produce myelin can be generated from human embryonic stems cells

MONDAY, April 13 (HealthDay News) -- Oligodendrocytes generated from human embryonic stem cells that produce myelin offer novel possibilities for basic and clinical research into treatments for multiple sclerosis, but the process is more protracted than in mouse cells, according to a study published online April 10 in Development.

Bao-Yang Hu, of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and colleagues used human embryonic stem cells to see if a process already achieved in mouse embryonic stem cells, which turns them into oligodendrocytes, could be replicated in human cells.

Although the process was more protracted than in mice embryonic stem cells, the researchers were able to develop oligodendrocytes from human embryonic stem cells using the same technique of exposure to the sonic hedgehog protein. The process took 14 weeks in human cells versus two weeks in mouse cells, and whereas the growth factor FGF2 promoted oligodendrocyte production in mouse embryonic stem cells, it stalls the process in human embryonic stems cells, the investigators found.

"This was quite a surprise given that this is exactly how we direct mouse embryonic stem cells to become oligodendrocytes. But we have discovered an unexpected twist in the cell's response to the same external factor," said Su-Chun Zhang, M.D., one of the study's authors, in a statement. "It nevertheless explains why so many research groups have failed to persuade human neural stem cells to become oligodendrocytes for the past decade."

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