Scleroderma patients seek experimental U.S. stem cell therapy

CTVNews.ca Staff Published Saturday, October 25, 2014 10:30PM EDT Last Updated Saturday, October 25, 2014 11:46PM EDT

An estimated 16,000 Canadians live with scleroderma, an incurable autoimmune disorder which causes the body to produce too much collagen, resulting in a hardening of the skin and tissue. There is no cure for the scleroderma, but some patients in Canada are now seeking a costly and experimental stem cell therapy in the U.S.

A little over a year ago, Mike Berry of Kingston, Ont., started having trouble breathing. It was the first sign of scleroderma.

Berry, 42, suffers from the systemic version of scleroderma, which attacks his internal organs. His lungs have been scarred by the disorder, with his lung capacity dropping to 41 per cent in just nine months. His disease may ultimately be fatal.

He described to CTV News how scleroderma has impacted his day-to-day life.

"I'm unable to work any longer; it affects me and everything now," he said. "It's hard to walk fast; I can't walk and talk."

Drugs to treat his scleroderma haven't worked, so now Berry is trying to fundraise more than $150,000 for an experimental U.S. stem cell treatment called Autologous Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (HSCT), in the hopes that it will save his life.

"It would give me as second chance, I guess I just have a lot to fight for," he said.

Pioneered by Dr. Richard Burt at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, patients receiving HSCT are administered stem cells intravenously.

During the treatment, the patient's stem cells are harvested, and then the patient's over-active immune system is destroyed with powerful chemotherapy drugs. Doctors then re-program the patient's immune system with the harvested stem cells, in the hopes that the cells will "reset" the patient's immune system and stop scleroderma.

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Scleroderma patients seek experimental U.S. stem cell therapy

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