Stem cell therapy remains controversial but a small clinical trial has shown that the treatment holds promise in addressing multiple sclerosis.
In a study published in JAMA Neurology, long-term remission from the disease was experienced by patients who underwent transplants using hematopoietic stem cells. Usually taken from the bone's marrow, this stem cell is tasked with creating blood. Aside from a stem cell transplant, patients were also administered high doses of immunosuppressive drugs.
Now on its third in a five-year schedule, the study involved 24 patients diagnosed with active relapsing-remitting MS, a type of MS where patients alternate between points of having and not having symptoms. Out of all the subjects, almost 79 percent were able to maintain full neurologic function during the first three years of the study without disease progression. Additionally, none of the patients developed new lesions associated with MS.
Overall, over 90 percent of the patients didn't experience progression of the disease, with 86 percent not undergoing any kind of relapse. Side effects reported due to the immunosuppressive drugs, were the same side effects patients would encounter using the drugs outside the study were a stem cell transplant is not involved.
While the study's results are promising, researchers reiterated the need for longer follow-ups.
"Careful comparison of the results of this investigation and other ongoing studies will be needed to identify the best approaches for high-dose immunosuppressive therapies for MS and plan the next clinical studies," said the researchers.
Not to mention that it still has not been established whether or not stem cell transplants are appropriate as treatment for MS. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration don't officially approve of stem cell treatment for MS, but the National Multiple Sclerosis Society is currently funding research projects exploring the use of stem cells for repairing nerve damage and preventing MS activity.
Between 250,000 and 300,000 Americans have MS. As an autoimmune disease, it features a patient's own immunity system attacking their myelin, the fatty coating covering and protecting nerves in the brain and spine.
Symptoms can vary, ranging in severity to include tingling and numbness, vision loss, coordination and balance problems, chronic fatigue and sometimes a drop in thinking skills and memory. When damage from MS becomes permanent, it can lead to paralysis.
Treatment options for those suffering with MS include 12 drugs approved by the FDA to reduce symptoms, slow down disease progression and even reverse damage to the nerves.