New research into reversing ageing stem cells to a ‘healthier state’ could help unlock treatments for multiple sclerosis (MS) and other brain diseases.

Led by multi-disciplinary team at the Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute (University of Cambridge), the research looked at how stiffening of the brain – caused by ageing – leads to brain stem cell dysfunction. In studying young and old rat brains the team investigated the role of brain stiffening on oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs). These cells are vital for normal brain function and for regenerating myelin, a ‘fatty sheath’ around nerves that become impaired in MS and contribute to its deterioration. By swapping older OPCs onto younger brains the scientists discovered new life can be breathed into them.

Dr Kevin Chalut, who co-led the research, said that “what was especially interesting” was that “when the old brain cells were grown on the soft material, they began to function like young cells – in other words, they were rejuvenated.”

On the implications for tackling MS, Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Director of Research at the MS Society, added: “MS is relentless, painful, and disabling, and treatments that can slow and prevent the accumulation of disability over time are desperately needed. The Cambridge team’s discoveries on how brain stem cells age and how this process might be reversed have important implications for future treatment, because it gives us a new target to address issues associated with aging and MS, including how to potentially regain lost function in the brain.”

The research was published in Nature.