A new study suggests that aggressive chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant can halt the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS). The study was published in The Lancet and closely monitored the conditions of 24 multiple sclerosis patients aged 18-50 years, collected from three Canadian hospitals. The new multiple sclerosis treatment proved effective at controlling the symptoms and managing patients’ prognosis in 23 cases, but in one case a patient died.
In the study, researchers exerted themselves in coming up with a treatment method for this incurable disease by expanding on previous researches and improving on the shortcomings they had. Previous methods of controlling MS included steroid medication, treating specific MS symptoms and using disease-modifying therapies to reduce the number of relapses.
One existing treatment known as autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT), involves suppressing the immune system with chemotherapy and infusing patients with stem cells previously extracted from their blood to boost the immune system. According to a study published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), this treatment proved successful since the two year, post-transplant half of the patients showed a marked improvement in disability.
Of the patients who were followed for four years, more than 80% remained relapse-free. The researchers furthered this technique, and instead of recharging the immune system using stem cells, they “destroyed” it.
MS affects around 100,000 people in Britain. Similar trials have been taking place across the UK and the US but none have shown such long-term remission.
The immune system is “rebuilt” using healthy stem cells, which are at such a salubrious stage that they do not show symptoms of MS. The study authors stated that they monitored the patients over a period of 13 years during which none of them showed any declining health conditions or relapses. All the patients in the clinical trial had shown little improvement using standard treatment techniques and had previously undergone standard immunosuppressive therapy which had not controlled the MS. However, one person had died due to intense chemotherapy dosage.
There were some limitations to the study as admitted by the study’s lead author Dr. Mark Freedman. Firstly, the study group was small and a larger number of participants could have produced more impactful results. Secondly, there was no control group to compare the results with and to prevent any possibility of a placebo effect.
Dr. Freedman added, “Since this is an aggressive treatment, the potential benefits should be weighed against the risks of serious complications associated with HSCT and this treatment should only be offered in specialist centers experienced both in multiple sclerosis treatment and stem cell therapy, or as part of a clinical trial.”
Dr. Emma Gray, Head of Clinical Trials, Multiple Sclerosis Society, UK, said that this type of stem cell treatment technique has quite a lot of potential, is rapidly evolving and can be the answer for many current individuals diagnosed with MS.
The treatment is proving quite effective but can be aggressive due to the risks and aftercare treatment involved. If anyone wants to undergo the treatment, it is recommended that they check with their neurologist first.
Dr. Stephen Minger, a stem cell biologist, believes the treatment to be revolutionary and warns critics that the study is still in its early stages. He believes that the follow-up treatment of patients is quite remarkable and that follow-ups will truly determine the treatment’s effectiveness, practicality and long-term effects in knowing for certain whether the patients will continue to do well or if there is a chance of relapse.
Before Multiple Sclerosis Treatment – What Is The Disease?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an auto-immune neural disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. In MS, the immune system gets disrupted and the immune cells start attacking the nerve cells by destroying the outer protective layer called myelin. This can lead to nerve fiber deterioration and can even cause permanent damage. Eventually, this can result in further problems such as muscle spasms, stiffness and weakness.
Losses of coordination, losses of vision and mobility problems are some of the outcomes of MS. The symptoms and severity of the disease are dependent on the amount of nerve damage and on which nerves are affected.
The exact reason for MS is still unknown but experts believe that environmental factors cause a reaction in some individuals who are genetically predisposed to respond. Hence, individuals should look out for early signs of MS such as chronic fatigue, muscle numbness, tingling or pain in certain parts of their bodies and loss of vision or blurriness. If such signs and symptoms appear it is advised to a see a neurophysician immediately.
At the moment there is no cure for MS but if proper care and medications are taken, the symptoms can be managed and the patient’s life can be prolonged.