The results of new research indicate that a treatment involving transplantation of stem cells could change the face of multiple sclerosis treatments. The patient’s immune system is first wiped out with anti-cancer medications. Following this, a new immune system is developed with the help of a stem cell transplant.
One patient, age 36, says the treatment was miraculous and she is now symptom-free. An estimated 400,000 Americans and 2.5 million people worldwide have multiple sclerosis.
Multiple Sclerosis: An Overview of the Disease
The disease is associated with damage to the insulation covering the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Patients also experience problems with movement, balance, sensation, and vision. People with MS have a slightly lower life expectancy.
New Multiple Sclerosis Trial
The trial that was conducted at four centers around the world – Sheffield in the United Kingdom, Chicago in the United States, Sao Paulo in Brazil, and Uppasala in Sweden, enrolled a little over 100 participants with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. This form of the disease is characterized by alternating relapses and remissions.
The results of the trial were presented in Portugal by the European Society for Bone Marrow Transplantation. The treatment group received a hematopoietic stem cell transplantation and the control group received pharmacotherapy.
After a period of one year, there was only one relapse reported in the stem cell group compared to nearly 40 in the control group. After three years, there was a failure rate of 60 percent in the drug group compared to 6 percent in the stem cell group.
The participants who received the stem cell transplant exhibited reduced disability while the control group showed worsening of symptoms. According to Professor Richard Burt of Northwestern University, a lead investigator on the trial, the results are overwhelmingly in favor of stem cell transplantation compared to the most effective pharmacotherapy. The researchers hope that these results will help reduce the skepticism about stem cell treatments in the neurologist community.
Stem Cell Treatment for MS
First, the damaged immune system is destroyed with chemotherapy agents. Stem cells sourced from the patient’s marrow and blood are reintroduced. These stem cells, which are free of MS, then rebuild a new immune system, offering relief to the patient.
Professor John Snowden at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield says the treatment is a game changer in MS treatment. According to another expert, Professor Basil Sharrack at the same hospital, the initial analysis indicates that this could well be the most effective treatment for MS.
Living with MS: A Patient’s Account
A patient who was diagnosed with MS at the age of 28 recounts her story. After her diagnosis, she lived in fear of a relapse in the disease. Without balance and stability, she found it difficult to even get out of bed. All her time was spent in a wheelchair as walking was a struggle. She suffered a constant brain fog because her cognition was affected. She could not follow conversations and often misread printed information.
This patient underwent the stem cell transplant for MS five years after her diagnosis. She has regained good health and even got married and had a baby. She is now living a normal life. The cost of the transplant was about the same as the annual price of MS medications.
Doctors are quick to point out that the stem cell treatment is not indicated in all patients. The treatment itself is grueling and involves chemotherapy and several weeks of isolation when the immune system is down.
Dr. Susan Kohlhaas of the MS Society says the stem cell transplant is likely to soon become a standard treatment for MS in the United Kingdom. Once that happens, the priority will be to offer it to patients who most need it. The life-changing treatment is a ray of hope for people living with multiple sclerosis.