Multiple sclerosis is a condition that leaves the
affected person with severe disability, ultimately requiring managed care. In multiple sclerosis, the covering of the
nerves called myelin sheath is damaged; this is followed by damage of the
underlying nerves. Most patients suffer from attacks and completely recover
between the attacks. This type of multiple sclerosis, called the
relapsing-remitting type, may progress to a stage of continuous deterioration
referred to as secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. (In contrast, patients
with primary progressive multiple sclerosis do not recover between attacks and
only show a progressive decline). Patients with progressive disease do not
respond to the available treatments.
Stem cell therapy has revolutionized treatment in a
number of conditions that were previously thought to be incurable. Stem cells
are undifferentiated cells which can convert themselves to any type of
specialized cells. Studies in mice show
that stem cells from the bone marrow may provide neuroprotection and improve
function in multiple sclerosis.
A study was
conducted in the United Kingdom to test the effect and safety of stem cell
therapy on patients with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. Ten patients, who suffered
from eye problems where the optic nerve was damaged due to the multiple
sclerosis, were included in the study. Stem cells were obtained from the
patients' bone marrow. They were then processed and injected into the veins of
Following the stem cell treatment, an improvement
was observed in some visual parameters: There
was an increase in optic nerve area, visual acuity and reduction in visual
evoked response latency; these parameters indicate neuroprotective effects of
the stem cells. It is possible that stem cells help in remyelination of the
events observed following treatment were mild and included rash in one patient,
scalp itching in another, a respiratory tract infection in the third (these did
not require treatment) and a urinary tract infection in a fourth patient that
required antibiotics. Thus, significant
adverse effects were not observed during the study.
Though the study has some limitations, it does offer
some hope for patients with multiple sclerosis.
1. Autologous mesenchymal stem cells for the treatment of secondary
progressive multiple sclerosis: an open-label phase 2a proof-of-concept study;
Peter Connick et al; The Lancet Neurology 2012.