Research finds surprising contributor to MS issues

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- New research has led to a discovery that may lead to new treatments for multiple sclerosis.

The research at the University School of Medicine took a look at a type of cell that has previously been ignored when studying the neurological disease.

These cells, called oligodendrocyte progenitor cells, are important in the production of myelin, the insulation for nerve cells that is attacked by the body's immune system in MS.

According to a release, these glial cells make up about five percent of the brain and spinal cord.

Previously, it had been thought these cells did not efficiently give rise to myelin-producing cells in people who are suffering from the progressively disabling neurological condition.

However, Alban Gaultier, PhD, and his team have discovered the cells actively participate in the immune system's attacks on the myelin.

“This cell type is modulating the inflammatory environment,” said Anthony Fernández-Castañeda, the PhD student who is the first author of the paper outlining these findings in the scientific journal Acta Neuropathologica. “I was very surprised that these progenitor cells, thought to be a bystander during the inflammatory process, are active contributors to neuroinflammation.”

The release says these new insights suggest doctors could possibly manipulate the environment inside the brain to avoid neurodegeneration and promote brain repair.

It adds that blocking the effects of the cells reduced inflammation and helped in the restoration of myelin.

Gaultier says scientists and doctors currently have many ways in which they can change the initial immune attacks, but they cannot promote cell repair. He adds both aspects of the pathology will need to be targeted in order to develop a cure for the disease.

However, these cells play several roles, which means they can't just be shut down.

“It's going to take a lot more work to translate these findings to any form of therapy,” said Gaultier. “We are shining the light on this cell type that very few people have studied as part of the inflammatory response in the brain. More consideration should be given to the varied roles the progenitor cells play when focusing on finding a cure for MS.”

More than two million people around the world are fighting the neurological disease.

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