Oligodendrocyte progenitor cells
A progenitor cell that is destined to become a type of “glial cell” (a cell type that is closely related to nerve cells) called an oligodendrocyte. Oligodendrocytes provide the critical “myelin sheath” that coats the axons of nerve cells in the central nervous system. The myelin sheath provides support and insulation. If the myelin sheath is lost (called “demyelination”), nerve impulses slow down, can be impaired or totally lost leading to eventual loss of the entire nerve. Demyelination can be caused by genetic disorders, injury (including spinal cord injury) or disease (such as multiple sclerosis). The result of demyelination is catastrophic, including loss of vision and hearing, loss of speech, memory loss, difficulty in coordination and weakness. Oligodendrocyte progenitor cells may be valuable for treating conditions related to demyelination because they can be grown to great numbers and can be subsequently applied to patients where they change or differentiate to oligodendrocytes and remyelinate the damaged nerves. Asterias BioTherapeutics, a BioTime subsidiary, is continuing clinical trials using this technology to address the remyelination of nerves damaged due to spinal cord injury.