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Doctors Stop Multiple Sclerosis With Stem Cell Transplant

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A new treatment that combines chemotherapy and stem cell transplant can help in the fight against aggressive multiple sclerosis (MS), experts said.

In the new method called autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT), doctors use chemotherapy to destroy the immune system and then use a stem cell transplant to help rebuild it using the patient's own stem cells.

In a small clinical trial, researchers analyzed the effectiveness of the new treatment in 24 multiple sclerosis patients from three Canada-based hospitals. The patients were between the ages of 18 and 50 years old.

Out of the 24 patients, 23 individuals experienced a great reduction in their disease's progression. Unfortunately, one of the patients died from liver infection. The findings were published in The Lancet journal.

These 23 patients no longer required medications for their multiple sclerosis. For almost eight years, eight patients showed continued improvements in their condition.

"These patients had highly active MS with lots of relapses and lots of ongoing damage to their brain, but we've been able to stop that," said Dr. Harold Atkins, the study's lead researcher. Atkins is also a clinical hematology associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

Atkins added that there are many medications and treatments available for multiple sclerosis that help slow down or temporarily stop the disease from progressing. The new treatment appears significant because it has an enduring effect on the patients.

Atkins cautioned that the new treatment is not applicable for all multiple sclerosis patients. The severity of the treatment, as well as the side effects, make the method not advisable for MS patients with advanced disabilities, in which the treatment will not work.

Moreover, the new method requires the destruction of the immune system, which means the patient will have no protection against infections.

Atkins added that the new treatment should only be given to patients with the most aggressive form of MS before the disease can do "real damage."

Multiple sclerosis is a condition wherein the body's own immune system attacks the nerve linings in the spinal cord and the brain. The majority of MS patients receive their diagnosis in their 20s and 30s.

In Canada, there are about 100,000 multiple sclerosis patients, many of whom are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40 years old. The condition can affect hearing, balance, mobility, memory and even vision.

"This treatment does offer hope, but it's also an aggressive procedure that comes with substantial risks and requires specialist aftercare. If anyone is considering HSCT we'd recommend they speak to their neurologist," said the MS Society's head of clinical trials, Dr. Emma Gray.

Photo: Jessie Jacobson | Flickr

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