A cancer treatment that involves knocking out the immune system and then rebuilding it with stem cell has slowed the progression of multiple sclerosis in some patients.

A small, randomized clinical trial for 110 patients diagnosed with the most common form of multiple sclerosis known as relapsing-remitting. Those who have the disease do not experience symptoms for long periods before the inflammation suddenly flares up.

The participants were divided into two groups: one group continued with drug treatment and one underwent hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT).

The findings were published in the medical journal JAMA Network.

Stem Cell Therapy For Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis

MS is a lifelong condition that affects the brain and/or the spinal cord, potentially leading to serious disability. It happens when the immune system goes haywire and starts to attack the nervous system, stripping it of the layer that protects the nerves called the myelin sheath.

It damages the nerves and disrupts the signals from the brain to the rest of the body. As a result, a patient with MS can experience mobility issues and blurred/double visions among other symptoms.

In the United States, an estimated 400,000 people live with the disease. About 10,000 new cases are diagnosed every year.

Current treatment options slow down the progression of the disease by keeping the immune system in check or preventing it from attacking the brain. However, the HSCT treatment offers a more radical approach. First, a chemotherapy drug wipes the patient's immune system and rebuilds it via a stem cell infusion that is either transplanted from the patient's own blood or from a donor.

The procedure is available to patients with certain cancers. It is also already in use to treat autoimmune diseases, including MS, but it comes with serious risks.

The new study proves that HSCT is not just safe, but can also be more effective than currently approved drugs in some patients.

Clinical Trial

The researchers monitored the condition of the patients involved in the trial for one year. During the follow-up checkups, only three out of the 55 patients who underwent HSCT showed disease progression after one year. In comparison, in the other (control) group, 34 out of 55 patients showed disease progression after one year.

Moreover, five years after treatment, only 15 percent of patients in the HSTC group had a relapse compared to 85 percent of the control group.

HSCT side effects include infertility and autoimmune thyroid disease (which is treatable). Richard K. Burt, an author of the study, also said that the procedure can only be offered to patients who have the relapsing-remitting type and who experience a frequent relapse.

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