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Although the origin of MS remains elusive, immune system attacks against myelin is a known hallmark of the disease. In MS patients, immune system cells called T-cells penetrate the brain and react against the myelin coating that protects and supports neurons. Essentially, the T-cells’ activity is  unregulated, something usually mediated by T regulatory cells (Tregs), and contributes to their abnormal aggressiveness.

One possible way to restore T-cell regulation is by using mesenchymal stem cells or MSCs (stem cells are immature cells that can become any type of cell in the body). MSCs are a type of stem cell found in the bone marrow, and have been shown to stimulate the presence of Tregs, thereby controlling the activity of T-cells.

The human umbilical cord has stem cells equivalent to MSCs, called UC-MSCs — these cells are more stable, induce lower immune responses, and have higher expansion ability compared to MSCs.

To understand whether these umbilical cord stem cells could restore the regulation of the immune system in MS, researchers cultured UC-MSCs together with immune system cells present in the blood of MS patients and healthy subjects.

UC-MSCs were obtained from discarded human umbilical cords, which offer an abundant and noninvasive source of these cells, and the blood cells from 12 relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) patients (mean age 53.75) and 10 healthy donors (mean age 28.38).

Researchers observed that the presence of UC-MSCs significantly increased the number of Tregs among resting T-cells from the MS patients. UC-MSCs were also able to restore the regulatory activity of Tregs, probably by stimulating the production of specific proteins, called cytokines, that control T-cell activity.

These results, overall, demonstrated that umbilical cord stem cells can effectively reduce abnormal immune system activity in MS.

“We report for the first time that the intrinsic Treg defect in MS can be repaired in vitro using a UC-MSC-mediated immune modulation,” the researchers concluded. “Our studies provide valuable preliminary in vitro data to support the development of functionally normalized Tregs … from individual patients with autoimmune diseases using a simple UC-MSC-based priming approach and may offer new therapeutic treatments for MS and other autoimmune diseases.”

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