Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition which can affect the brain and spinal cord. The average life expectancy of individuals living with MS is slightly reduced. MS brings about condition with vision problems, impaired arm or leg movement, sensation and balance.
In a medical trial that took place in five different states, that’s Chicago, Sheffield, Uppsala in Sweden and Sao Paola in Brazil shows that a stem cell transplant was able to stop the disease and improve symptoms. The research recruited 100 patients. This involves wiping out a patient’s immune system using cancer drugs and starting or refreshing the persons system with a stem cell transplant.
The 100 patients who took part had relapsing remitting MS where attacks or relapses are followed by periods of remission. The European Society for Bone and Marrow Transplantation released this interim result during their annual meeting 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 favor of transplant against the best available drugs – the neurological community has been sceptical about this treatment, but these results will change that.”
The treatment involves the use of chemotherapy which destroys the faulty immune system and stems cells are taken from the patient’s blood and bone marrow are then re-infused. These are unaffected by MS and they rebuild the immune system.
Prof John Snowden, director of blood and bone marrow transplantation at Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire Hospital, told me: “We are thrilled with the results – they are a game changer for patients with drug resistant and disabling multiple sclerosis”.
Prof Basil Sharrack, neurologist at Royal Hallamshire Hospital, told me: “This is interim analysis, but with that caveat, this is the best result I have seen in any trial for multiple sclerosis.”