40% of patients in the seven-year clinical trial experienced a reversal of symptoms.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a neurodegenerative disease that results in victims slowly losing their ability to speak, walk, and see. For obvious reasons, scientists have been working tirelessly for decades to find a solution to the health illness. And now, it seems potential remedy has been discovered.
According to a new study, published in The Lancet, a combination treatment of both chemotherapy and stem cell therapy may be the solution sought to remedy MS. Over a period of seven years, researchers conducted a clinical trial and witnessed a significant reversal of the effects of aggressive relapsing MS in 24 patients.
The Telegraph reports that the therapy, which is normally reserved for leukemia patients, involves giving patients a medication that forces the stem cells inside their bone marrow to enter the bloodstream. From there, the cells can be harvested, purified, and frozen. Next, the patient’s immune system is completely eradicated with chemo. Then, the patient has their frozen stem cells transplanted back into their bone marrow with the hope of giving them a fresh immune system.
This breakthrough was made when doctors started looking at MS as an autoimmune disease rather than a neurodegenerative one. It took a while for the connection to be made, as with MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheaths that cover nerve fibers through the central nervous system.
At the end of the trial, 40% of patients experienced a reversal of symptoms, which included loss of vision and balance and muscle weakness. The most significant outcome of the study, however, may have been the recovery of one patient named Jennifer Molson. The patient, who was diagnosed with MS in 1996, quickly experienced her health deteriorate. In less than five years, she was living in a hospital under 24-hour care and using a cane, walker, and a wheelchair. But after receiving the innovative treatment in 2002, she has made a nearly complete recovery. Today, she lives without any assisted care and has no trouble walking.
One of the researchers, Dr. Mark Freedman, commented on Molson’s progress:
“Jennifer, she freaked me out one day when she came to the clinic wearing high heels. This was a girl who could barely walk.”
Though the disease is listed as ‘incurable’, doctors are now optimistic a ‘cure’ will soon be written into the textbooks. Of course, the innovative approach to remedying MS isn’t without risks. The treatment is incredibly tough on the body – particularly the liver. During the trials, one patient died of liver failure while another required intensive care for liver complications.
Said Dr. Emma Gray, head of clinical trials at the MS Society:
“This treatment does offer hope, but it’s also an aggressive procedure that comes with substantial risks and requires specialist aftercare. If anyone is considering HSCT we’d recommend they speak to their neurologist.”
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Source: Atkins HL, Bowman M, Allan D, et al. Immunoablation and autologous haemopoietic stem-cell transplantation for aggressive multiple sclerosis: a multicentre single-group phase 2 trial. The Lancet . 2016
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