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Researchers at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine have made a remarkable breakthrough in the fight to cure painful and altogether devastating myelin disorders such as multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. In fact, their efforts revolve around a process that sounds more like something out of a science fiction movie than a laboratory on a university campus.
Using what they referred to as “cellular alchemy,” the researchers were essentially able to convert common skin cells found in mice into functioning brain cells.
In general, most healthy people have a ready supply of myelinating cells. These cells are biologically designed to perform vital neurological functions, such as enabling the relay of brain impulses throughout the body, and both insulating and protecting neurons. Patients diagnosed with conditions like multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy, however, are suffering from a deficit of myelinating cells, which are not re-synthesized by the body when destroyed.
Here, the researchers used the revolutionary technique of “cellular reprogramming” to convert fibroblasts — common and plentiful cells found in the skin and organs — of mice into oligodendrocytes, or myelinating cells.
“We are taking a readily accessible and abundant cell and completely switching its identity to become a highly valuable cell for therapy,” said Paul Tesar, Ph.D., one of the primary authors of the study.
The study, published in the most recent edition of Nature Biotechnology, indicates that the next step is to replicate the experiment using human cells. If this ultimately proves successful, it could have significant implications for the treatment of myelin disorders, giving children suffering from cerebral palsy and their families a much-needed sense of hope.
Some background on cerebral palsy
For those unfamiliar with cerebral palsy, it is a devastating condition that can cause a host of medical problems in children ranging from vision, hearing and speech problems to muscle spasms, muscle stiffness and mobility issues
While medical experts have yet to identify all of the causes of cerebral palsy, they have found that oxygen deprivation either during delivery or shortly after birth is one of the more frequent causes.
Please contact a legal professional to learn more if you feel that the onset of cerebral palsy was due to the failure of an OB/GYN to monitor the health of your baby during the delivery or a pediatrician’s failure to diagnose a health issue during your child’s early development.
Source: Red Orbit, “Turning stem cells into brain cells to cure multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy,” Lawrence LeBlond, April 15, 2013