Scientists discover, stem cell treatment ‘can halt symptoms of multiple sclerosis’

Human stem cell

Stem cells could be used to ‘reset’ patients’ immune systems

The condition can affect the brain and spinal cord, causing problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance. It is caused when the immune system attacks the body. Scientists hailed a new stem cell treatment on Thursday night that can halt symptoms in people with multiple sclerosis.

More than 100,000 people have multiple sclerosis in the UK.

In a world first clinical trial, doctors harvested bone marrow stem cells from 24 patients and then used chemotherapy to destroy the patients’ immune systems completely. They then reintroduced the stem cells into the patients to “reset” their immune systems and stop them attacking the body.

The new technique, tested by experts at The Ottawa Hospital, in Ottawa, Canada, produced remarkable results.

It completely halted relapses and development of new brain lesions in 23 of the patients for a prolonged period without the need for ongoing medication, according to a report published in The Lancet. Eight of the 23 patients had a sustained improvement in their condition more than seven years after the treatment.

MS can affect patients’ brain and spinal cord

But the new treatment also comes with serious risks. One of the 24 patients died from complications due to the chemotherapy.

Dr Emma Gray, Head of Clinical Trials at the MS Society, said: “This type of stem cell transplantation is a rapidly evolving area of MS research that holds a lot of promise for people with certain types of MS.

“In this latest trial patients were monitored post treatment for a longer period than previous studies, providing valuable information about the long term safety and effectiveness of HSCT as well as who might benefit.

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“This treatment does offer hope, but it’s also an aggressive procedure that comes with substantial risks and requires specialist aftercare.”

Commenting on the “breakthrough” trial, stem cell biologist Dr Stephen Minger described the results as “truly impressive, in some cases close to being curative”.

He added: “For a life-long progressive disease like MS with few treatment options this is really exciting data – it offers the hope of having a long-lasting treatment which may halt disease progression, though again, this is a very invasive therapy and not without risks.”