New stem cell therapy freezes Multiple Sclerosis in its tracks

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

Multiple Sclerosis is a debilitating disease that affects hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, but new therapies and treatments are bringing new hope to the people affected by it.

 

A new multiple sclerosis treatment that “resets” the human immune system has been found to “freeze” progression of the disease in nearly half of patients, according to a new announcement by scientists in London.

 

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A study led by Imperial College London found that 46 per cent of patients who underwent the treatment did not suffer a worsening of their condition for five years, and now the treatment could give hope to the estimated 100,000 people in the UK who are affected by multiple sclerosis (MS), for which there is currently no cure.

The disease, which is caused by the immune system malfunctioning and mistakenly attacking nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, leads to problems with movement, vision, balance and speech and often leaves people in wheelchairs. But now, the latest treatment which has been dubbed Autologous Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (AHSCT), which was given to patients with advanced forms of the disease who had failed to respond to other medications have given hundreds of thousands of sufferers new hope.

“We previously knew this treatment reboots or resets the immune system but we didn’t know how long the benefits lasted,” said Dr Paolo Muraro, the new study’s lead author, “in this study, which is the largest long term follow up study of its kind, we’ve shown we can ‘freeze’ a patient’s disease – and stop it from becoming worse, for up to five years.”

The researchers noted, however, that the nature of the treatment, which also involves aggressive chemotherapy to clear out, or eradicate, the patient’s own “faulty” bone marrow, carried “significant risks”.

 

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The chemotherapy deactivates their immune system for a short period of time, which can lead to greater risk of infection, and of the 281 patients who received AHSCT, eight died in the 100 days after treatment which works by destroying the immune cells responsible for attacking the nervous system.

The patients in the trials were given a drug that encouraged stem cells to move from the bone marrow and into the bloodstream, where they were removed from the body. High dose chemotherapy was then administered to kill all of the patient’s immune cells, before the patient’s own stem cells were put back into the body to “reset” the immune system.

While the results are encouraging it’s also clear that there’s still a lot of work left to do, but for many, the fact that scientists have been able to stop MS in its tracks is enough to give them hope that one day the disease might be beaten – no matter how far away that day is.

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