Multiple Sclerosis is a life-threatening disease affecting the central nervous system. A breakthrough stem cell transplant has shown promise to halt the symptoms and relapses of the condition.
The world's first clinical trial conducted by experts at The Ottawa Hospital, in Canada showed remarkable results. About 24 patients with MS were given chemotherapy and then a stem cell transplant.
‘The new stem cell therapy using chemotherapy to eradicate the damaged immune system entirely, before rebooting it with a transfusion of bone marrow cells has helped halt relapses and symptoms of multiple sclerosis.’
Doctors first harvested bone marrow stem cells from these patients and then used chemotherapy to destroy their immune systems completely. After this, they reintroduced the stem cells into the patients to "reset" their immune systems.
In patients with MS, the body's immune system attacks the myelin sheath of the neurons leading to degeneration. But when their immune systems were reset, the immune cells stopped attacking the body, preventing relapses.
This stem cell therapy completely halted relapses and the development of new brain lesions in 23 of 24 patients with multiple sclerosis for a prolonged period without the need for ongoing medication.
But there were some risks associated with this procedure as one patient in the trial died due to liver problems.
"Our trial is the first to show the complete, long-term suppression of all inflammatory activity in people with MS," said Dr. Harold Atkins, a stem cell transplant physician and scientist at The Ottawa Hospital.
"A variation of this procedure has been used to treat leukemia for decades, but its use for auto-immune diseases is relatively new. This is very exciting. However, it is important to note that this therapy can have serious side effects and risks, and would only be appropriate for a small proportion of people with very active MS."