A new study spearheaded by researchers from Imperial College London suggests that a type of stem cell treatment may be the much-awaited game changer for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.
What Is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a devastating neurological condition believed to be triggered by a glitch in the immune system, which by mistake attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
People suffering from MS may have vision problems, balance problems and dizziness, fatigue, bladder issues, stiffness, and tremors.
The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation estimates that more than 400,000 people in the United States and about 2.5 million people around the world have MS.
New MS Treatment Resets Immune System
Patients with advanced multiple sclerosis where other types of treatment were proven ineffective were subjected to autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT).
Through AHSCT, the patient's stem cells are harvested from the bone marrow or the blood, which are purified and then frozen. The patient goes through high-dose chemotherapy to rid the system of disease-causing cells. The harvested stem cells are infused back into the patient's bloodstream to restart normal blood cell production. In a sense, AHSCT helps the immune system start anew.
"In this study, which is the largest long-term follow-up study of this procedure, we've shown we can 'freeze' a patient's disease - and stop it from becoming worse, for up to five years," Dr. Paolo Muraro, the study's principal author, explained.
Experts assessed the patients' progress using the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) - zero for no disability, seven for wheelchair-bound, and 10 for death.
Before participating in the study, patients had an average EDSS of 6.5. But after 12 months of continuous MS treatment, patients with relapsing MS (a category of the disease with flare-ups) had improved their EDSS score by at least 0.76. Patients with progressive MS, on the other hand, had a minimal improvement of 0.14.
At least 73 percent of patients with relapsing MS reported no flare-ups five years after going through AHSCT, compared with one in three patients with progressive MS, a more severe form of the disease, which has presently no known cure.
The Risks Involved
However, Muraro also admitted that despite its promising potential, the new MS treatment may come with substantial risks.
Because the treatment program involves invasive chemotherapy and antibody treatments, which deactivates the immune system for a period of time, patients became vulnerable to infections - out of 281 participants, eight died 100 days after treatment.
The result of the study was published in JAMA Neurology.