Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease in which the body destroys the insulating fatty layer myelin around nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The effects of MS can be wide-ranging from muscular weakness and spasms, to visual, bowel, urinary tract and cognitive effects. While there is no known cure for MS, various drugs have been developed to slow the progression of the disease, although they are not totally effective.
Currently, the efficacy of stem cell transplantation in preventing the progression of MS is being investigated, particularly in patients whose disease is not well-controlled with pharmacologic agents.
Dr. Richard A. Nash of the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute in Denver and colleagues from several other institutions studied the response of 24 MS patients to being treated with their own blood-forming (hematopoietic) stem cells, as well as with immuno-suppressive drugs. They reported on the results of the treatment after three years of a five-year study. Specifically, the investigators evaluated three outcomes: loss of neurologic function; clinical relapse; or new neural lesions found on MRI scans. Of the 24 patients, 17 were women, and their median age was 58 years. All patients had previously been treated with an average of 3 medications without controlling their disease. Their median disease duration was about five years.
Overall, they found that 78 percent of patients experienced event-free survival, 91 percent survived with no disease progression, and 86 percent had no clinical relapse three years after stem cell treatment. Further, the researchers reported Treatment was associated with few serious early complications or unexpected adverse events. They added that this treatment may therefore represent a potential therapeutic option for patients with MS in whom conventional immunotherapy fails, as well as for other severe immune-mediated diseases of the central nervous system.
ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross concurred, While these results are obviously preliminary, and the study was quite small, they provide some hope that MS sufferers may soon have access to a treatment that is more effective than current modalities, some of which are either toxic or have to be administered intravenously. However, recent advances in drug therapies have made a huge difference in the lives of many MS patients.