Multiple Sclerosis, Stem Cells, and the Body’s Natural Healing Process
The body has a natural capacity to heal some of the damage caused by multiple sclerosis (MS). For example, partial healing occurs following each MS relapse.
Here’s how it works: The inflammation that occurs during an MS relapse causes edema — the accumulation of fluids at the site of the damaged myelin (picture what happens when you sprain your ankle). Edema results in swelling that compresses the myelin-coated axons and interferes with the transmission of nerve signals.
As the inflammation and swelling disappear, and the relapse comes to an end, some of the axons begin to decompress and are able to function normally again. The reduction of inflammation can happen through a natural healing process or can sometimes be speeded up with corticosteroid medications.
In addition, the myelin coating that has been damaged by the inflammation has some ability — but not a whole lot — to heal or regenerate. As long as the axon itself remains intact, the natural regeneration of myelin can smooth out the conduction of nerve impulses and result in some amount of improvement of symptoms over time.
Check out the National MS Society website for more information on myelin and current research efforts to stimulate this natural healing process.
After the nerve fiber itself has been damaged or severed, and scar tissue has formed, healing is much more difficult. Unfortunately, doctors haven’t yet found a way to repair damaged axons or to remove the scars. Researchers are focusing a lot of attention on how to promote this kind of repair — and this is precisely where stem cell research may be most relevant in MS.
To read about stems cells and their potential value in the treatment of MS, go to the Stem Cells section of the National MS Society website.