A Promising Trial Uses Blood Derived Stem Cells to Treat Multiple Sclerosis

A stem cell treatment routinely used for bone and blood cancers is showing promise at reversing the effects of multiple sclerosis (MS). The treatment, known as autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT), uses chemotherapy to break down the patient's faulty immune system. Stem cells are then harvested and re-infused into the patient to 'reboot' their immune system. Within two weeks, new red and white blood cells start to grow. One of the primary source of hematopoietic stem cells is umbilical cord blood.

Over two million people worldwide are affected by MS. The body's own immune system attacks and damages the myelin – the protective layer that surrounds nerve fibres. This damage impairs nerve-cell transmission in the brain and the spinal cord, causing widespread disability. Although some drugs exist to help with early symptoms of the disease, there is currently no cure.

Holly Dewry was diagnosed with MS at the age of 21. She was one of the patients in the trial conducted at Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, who received the HSCT. Holly needed a wheelchair before her transplant, but after the treatment she walked out of hospital. Two years on she has suffered no relapses and there is no evidence of active disease on her scans.

The trial now aims to assess the long-term benefits of the stem cell transplant for MS. It includes patients with relapsing, remitting MS, which involves flare-ups of symptoms that can last from days to months.

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