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Researcher: Stem cells key to TM cure

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    Researcher: Stem cells key to TM cure

    Researcher: Stem cells key to TM cure


    MYERSTOWN — Lebanon County resident Ted Anspach wants his body back to normal. He has been suffering with multiple sclerosis, a well-known but little understood disease, for about 10 years.

    After several years of aggressive treatment, the 68-year-old Anspach is getting some of his body functions back.

    Now he is pushing to educate as many people as he can about a similar disease, transverse myelitis, that also attacks the body’s autoimmune system.

    Through Anspach’s efforts, more than 100 people from around the state attended a benefit dinner and talk with a world-renowned stem-cell researcher at the Lantern Lodge last night. It was hosted by the Greater Lebanon Valley Lions Club.

    Dr. Douglas Kerr, associate professor of neurology, molecular microbiology and immunology, director of the Johns Hopkins Transverse Myelitis Center in Baltimore, spoke about possible cures for transverse myelitis, as well as MS and other diseases that can cause paralysis.

    Multiple sclerosis is believed to be an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. It attacks fatty tissue in the body, called myelin, that helps nerve fibers conduct electrical impulses to the brain. If myelin is damaged, the electrical impulses are disrupted.

    Transverse myelitis is a neurological disorder caused by inflammation of the spinal cord. It, too, interrupts the electrical pathways to the brain.
    About 60,000 people in North America have the disease, and about 2,500 new cases are diagnosed each year, Kerr said.

    “It’s unpredictable who gets it. The real cure is call off that autoimmune attack as quickly as possible,” he said.

    There are a number of medications and treatments that can “quiet down the immune system” if TM is diagnosed early, he said. If it is not, the inflammation causes a spinal-cord injury for which there is not yet a cure.

    However, Kerr said embryonic stem cells could hold the cure.

    “We hope to repair the spinal cord from that damage by using stem cells,” he said.

    Embryonic stem cells have the greatest ability to become specialized spinal-cord-neural cells.

    There is also another approach based on remyelination, or replacing the myelin-producing tissue.

    “The trick there is to engineer a stem cell to replace the myelin and restore function,” he explained.

    Kerr said there are political obstacles because funding for embryonic stem cells is very limited.

    “So we’re hindered in our ability to go forward with that research,” he said.

    In addition, private drug companies are not yet supporting the research, “because they think it’s too early and too difficult to figure out how they will make money,” he said.

    Typically, the National Institutes of Health would fill that gap, but the NIH is not supporting it yet, either, he said.

    Kerr said he believes the NIH should step forward.

    “We, as a society, shouldn’t be driven by whether we make money. We should be driven by curing people, and we now have the biology to do that. That should be our bottom line,” Kerr said.

    Valid points from Dr. Kerr here, one should help to come around those obstacles.