Stem cell transplant may help patients with MS

An experimental treatment that uses a patient's own stem cells may offer new hope for people with multiple sclerosis.

In a small clinical trial, patients experienced long-term disease remission after undergoing a transplant of their own hematopoietic stem cells. This type of cell is responsible for the formation of blood in the body and are typically derived from bone marrow. The patients also took high-dose immunosuppressive drugs.

The paper, published Monday in JAMA Neurology, reports on the third year of a five-year study. A total of 24 patients with active relapsing-remitting MS were enrolled in the trial. With this type of MS, patients have points when their disease is active followed by periods when they do not experience any symptoms.

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Dr. Jon LaPook goes inside the trial and approval process for an experimental treatment using stem cells designed to make Multiple Sclerosis pati...

The researchers found that nearly 79 percent of the patients who underwent the procedure sustained full neurologic function for the three years following the treatment and symptoms of their disease did not progress. Additionally, patients in that time period did not develop any new lesions related to their disease.

More than 90 percent of patients did not experience disease progression, while 86 percent did not have any periods of relapse. Though a small number of patients did have side effects from the immunosuppressive drugs, they were no different than the side effects typically experienced by MS patients taking the drugs who haven't undergone stem cell therapy.

"Longer follow-up is needed to determine the durability of the response," the authors write in the study. "Careful comparison of the results of this investigation and other ongoing studies will be needed to identify the best approaches for high-dose immunosuppressive therapies for MS and plan the next clinical studies."

The authors of an accompanying editorial say the research indicates this type of therapy has potential to work on patients who do not experience disease remission with medications alone, such as immunosuppressive drugs and anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids.

However, they add that "the jury is still out regarding the appropriateness and indication" of stem cell transplants for MS patients. Stem cell therapy is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of MS. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society currently funds 15 research projects on stem cell therapies that have the potential to prevent disease activity and repair nerve damage.

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Stem cell transplant may help patients with MS

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