Stem cell transplant ‘game changer’ for MS patients

Stem cell transplant 'game changer' for MS patients
Stem cell transplant 'game changer' for MS patients

Doctors say a stem cell transplant could be a “game changer” for many patients with multiple sclerosis. Results from an international trial show that it was able to stop the disease and improve symptoms. It involves wiping out a patient’s immune system using cancer drugs and then rebooting it with a stem cell transplant. Louise Willetts, 36, from Rotherham, is now symptom-free and told me: “It feels like a miracle.” A total of 100,000 people in the UK have MS, which attacks nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Just over 100 patients took part in the trial, in hospitals in Chicago, Sheffield, Uppsala in Sweden and Sao Paolo in Brazil.  They all had relapsing remitting MS – where attacks or relapses are followed by periods of remission. The interim results were released at the annual meeting of the European Society for Bone and Marrow Transplantation in Lisbon. The patients received either haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) or drug treatment. After one year, only one relapse occurred among the stem cell group compared with 39 in the drug group. After an average follow-up of three years, the transplants had failed in three out of 52 patients (6%), compared with 30 of 50 (60%) in the control group. Those in the transplant group experienced a reduction in disability, whereas symptoms worsened in the drug group.  Prof Richard Burt, lead investigator, Northwestern University Chicago, told me: “The data is stunningly in favour of transplant against the best available drugs – the neurological community has been sceptical about this treatment, but these results will change that.”

Multiple sclerosis
•    Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition which can affect the brain and/or spinal cord
•    It can cause problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance
•    Average life expectancy is slightly reduced
•    It is estimated that there are more than 100,000 people diagnosed with MS in the UK

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