Study: Stem cells from older donors less effective for treating MS

September 13, 2013

Arthur Nead
Phone: 504-247-1443


Bruce A. Bunnell, director, Tulane Center for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine. Photo by Keith Brannon.

In a new study with potentially far-reaching significance for doctors treating multiple sclerosis, scientists at Tulane University School of Medicine have demonstrated that stem cells given by older donors to treat the disease are less therapeutically effective than cells from younger donors. The study appears in the journal, Stem Cells Translational Medicine.

In the study, mice were induced with a variant of multiple sclerosis and treated before disease onset with mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) taken from younger (less than 35 years) or older (over age 60) donors.
The researchers found that stem cells from older donors failed to halt the progression of the disease. In fact, the results indicated that older stem cells might actually stimulate the proliferation of T-cells while younger stem cells are capable of inhibiting their proliferation. Multiple sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease characterized by inflammation and scar-like lesions throughout the central nervous system, is due in part to attacks on the insulating myelin covering of nerve fibers by the patient’s own T-cells-- white blood cells that are normally part of the body’s immune system.

“A decrease in T-cell proliferation would result in a decreased number of T-cells available to attack the central nervous system in the mice, which directly supports the results showing that the nerve damage and inflammation is less severe in the young MSC-treated mice than in the old MSC-treated mice,” says Bruce A. Bunnell, the study’s principal investigator and director of the Center for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine at Tulane.

Previous studies on animals have shown that transplantation of mesenchymal stem cells holds promise as a therapy for multiple sclerosis. MSCs have the ability, when introduced into a patient, to migrate to areas of damage, release cell growth and protective factors, and inhibit T-cell proliferation.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000