Treatment with human stem cells has allowed mice crippled by a version of multiple sclerosis (MS) to walk again after less than two weeks.
Scientists admit to being astonished by the result and believe it opens up a new avenue of research in the quest for solutions to MS.
Professor Tom Lane, from the University of Utah, who led the team, recalled: “My post-doctoral fellow Dr Lu Chen came to me and said the mice are walking’. I didn’t believe her.”
The genetically engineered mice had a condition that mimics the symptoms of human MS.
They were so disabled they could not stand long enough to eat and drink on their own. The scientists transplanted human neural stem cells into the animals expecting them to be rejected and provide no benefit.
Instead the experiment yielded spectacular results. Within 10 to 14 days, the mice had regained motor skills and were able to walk again. Six months later, they showed no sign of relapsing.
The findings, published in the journal Stem Cell Reports, suggest the mice experienced at least a partial reversal of their symptoms.
A similar outcome in humans could help patients with potentially disabling progressive stages of the disease for which there are no treatments.
“This opens up a whole new area of research for us to figure out why it worked,” said report co-author Dr Jeanne Loring.