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Need to Know: What Are Stem Cells? 

Columnist Tamara Sellman describes the types of studies that are seeking to develop effective therapies for MS based on stem cells.

You’ve no doubt heard about stem cell therapy. It is being used for everything from bone marrow transplants to treating spinal cord injuries and arthritis. MS is another condition that could benefit from the therapeutic use of these specialty cells.

What exactly are stem cells?

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) describes stem cells as those that can differentiate, or develop, into the many types of specialized cells in our bodies.

The larger question looms: How can stem cells be used to treat MS?

Stem cell types

To better understand stem cell therapy for treating MS, you first need to know about the different kinds of stem cells. Of the four categories described on the website A Closer Look at Stem Cells, two are pertinent to current MS research:

  • Tissue-specific stem cells: These are more specialized, adult stem cells that generate new cells for the tissues or organs in which they are found. Of special interest are the hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), which are in the bone marrow and assist in generating red and white blood cells and platelets.
  • Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs): These cells dwell in bone marrow and can generate fat, cartilage, and bone cells. However, MSCs are still mysterious — their generative functions remain unclear. Indeed, some scientists don’t think they’re stem cells at all. This makes them the subject of intense study. Despite disagreements about what they are, MSCs are still thought to have potentially valuable immunomodulatory properties.
Read on: Need to Know: What Are Stem Cells?

The health and medical information on our website is not intended to take the place of advice or treatment from health care professionals. It is also not intended to substitute for the users’ relationships with their own health care/pharmaceutical providers.

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