Patients may be able to' 'walk again'' due to Multiple Sclerosis stem cell treatment
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the central nervous system such that the nerve cells cannot function properly causing problems with muscle movement and balance. It is usually diagnosed when a person is in their 20s or 30s and more than 100,000 people in the UK are currently living with the incurable neurological disease. As there is currently no cure for the disease, patients have, so far, relied upon medicine and physiotherapy to treat the symptoms. Although these treatments help patients to cope with their symptoms, they do not repair the damage that has been done.
However, researchers hope that stem cell therapies may provide new approaches that can prevent the damage of MS. The new treatment for MS has allowed some patients to even walk again by “rebooting” their immune systems.
Scientists have used stem cells to carry out a bone marrow transplant as part of a clinical trial at Sheffield's Royal Hallamshire Hospital involving around 20 patients.
This method is known as an autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) and it works by using chemotherapy to destroy the existing faulty cells of the immune system, before rebuilding it using stem cells taken from the patient's own blood. This, in effect, gives the immune system a chance to reboot from scratch.
For some patients the trial has been so effective that they have been able to walk once more.
Professors at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital have described the treatment as a ''major achievement'' and are very pleased that they have been able to make a big impact of patient's lives.
Professor John Snowden, consultant haematologist at Royal Hallamshire Hospital, said that the treatment works in a way that the patient’s immune systems were “reset or rebooted" back to a time point before it caused MS.
A Clinical trial patient was diagnosed with MS aged 21, but her condition worsened after the birth of her daughter after which she had to start using a wheelchair. Over the course of a few months her condition deteriorated so much that she found herself unable to dress or wash herself and even lacked strength to carry her daughter. She felt completely limited in what she could or couldn't do and felt that she was being deprived the opportunity in being a mother to her baby due to her condition.
But following the treatment, the patient has been able to walk out of hospital with no evidence of the active disease in her scans. She now has her independence back with a bright future in terms of being a mum.
However, the treatment although very powerful has been said to have ''significant risks as well as potential benefits''. Amy Bowen, Director of Service Development at the MS Trust says that there is still a long way to go before this treatment becomes routine for MS. “We still need more clinical trials to understand who is most likely to benefit from treatment, to develop safer treatment procedures and understand what the long-term effects of treatment might be.”
Even though ongoing research suggests stem cell treatments such as HSCT could offer hope and it's evident that they've had a life-changing impact, the trials have found that whilst HSCT may be able to stabilise the disability in some people with MS, it may not be effective for all types of the condition.
The head of clinical trials at UK's MS Society, Dr Emma Gray, says: "We want people to be aware that HSCT is an aggressive treatment that comes with significant risks. It needs to be carried out at an accredited centre or as part of a clinical trial.
The MS Society has recently funded a study looking into the impact of HSCT on the immune system and it would be ideal to see larger trials in this area. This would enable us to learn more about the safety and long term effectiveness of the treatment and who could benefit from it. So, although the trial has provided very positive results from those patients suffering with MS, it is yet to be seen whether the treatment can be used to cure all types of patients with the disease.