World MS Day is celebrated each year on 30th May. It was initiated in 2009 by members of the MS international federation to bring together the global MS community to raise awareness of MS, share their stories and campaign for better services and effective treatment for people with MS. The 2020-2022 campaign aims to challenge social barriers that can leave those affected by MS feeling lonely and socially isolated by promoting “connections”, be that to better quality care, to support local networks or promoting self-care, #MSConnections.
MS is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system in which the myelin sheath, which surrounds and insulates the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, is damaged and/or lost. Normally, the myelin sheath allows rapid and efficient transmission of electrical impulses along nerves, which is required for smooth, rapid and coordinated movements. Demyelination (the loss of the myelin sheath) impairs the speed and efficiency with which electrical impulses can be sent to and from the brain, thereby producing the wide variety of MS symptoms, including blurred vision, unsteadiness, weak limbs and fatigue. The loss of myelin within the brain and spinal cord results in the appearance of lesions or scars. MS affects everyone differently, for some people the disease is progressive, whilst for others they experience periods of remission and relapse, making life with MS unpredictable. There is no cure for MS, but treatments are available to manage the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
In recent years, stem cells have entered into the arena as a potential treatment option, with trials for mesenchymal or neural stem cell treatments ongoing or recruiting (NCT02166021, NCT03326505, NCT03282760, clinicaltrials.gov), although thus far there are no approved stem cell derived treatment options. Another promising target for novel therapies is a cell type called an oligodendrocyte. The central function of oligodendrocytes is the generation of myelin to protect and insulate neurons in the central nervous system. Injury to these cells occurs during the formation of MS lesions, hence restoring their function is an attractive therapeutic target. A recent study using a mouse model of demyelination found that human oligodendrocyte progenitor cells were able to migrate and colonise the adult mouse brain to induce myelination with accompanied functional improvement e.g. motor behaviour, in these adult mice1. The clinical application of such an approach may be several years in development, with many scientific, regulatory and economic hurdles in between, however RESTORE (a large-scale EU research initiative) aims to support and accelerate the development of such therapies. The mission of RESTORE is to bring potentially curative treatments to all those in need, who currently live with chronic and often debilitating conditions.
If you would like to take part in World MS Day celebrations, find out about events in your area and get involved in campaigning then please visit the World MS day website: https://worldmsday.org/. Start making your #MSConnections today!