Stem cell transplants could be a “game changer” for people living with multiple sclerosis, doctors say. Results from an international trial showed that the procedure was able to stop the disease and improve symptoms.
The stem cell transplant basically involves wiping out a patient’s immune system through cancer medicines and rebooting everything, the BBC reports. A little over 100 patients across hospitals in Chicago, Sheffield, Uppsala in Sweden and Sao Paolo in Brazil took part in the trial. All of them had relapsing remitting MS, where they suffer from attacks or relapses, followed by remissions.
The patients received either hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) or drug treatment. After a year, there was only one relapse among those who underwent the stem cell process, compared with 39 in those who took drugs. After a three-year follow-up, the transplants proved to have failed in three of the 52 patients, compared with 30 out of 50 in the control group.
In addition, the patients who had transplants experienced improvement in their disabilities, while those in the drug group saw worsening symptoms.
Richard Burt, lead scientist on the study from Northwestern University Chicago, said,
The data is stunningly in favor of transplant against the best available drugs – the neurological community has been skeptical about this treatment, but these results will change that.
In this procedure, chemotherapy destroys a patient’s immune system first, then stem cells are taken from the patient’s blood and bone marrow and are re-infused. These cells are not affected by MS, and rebuild the entire immune system.
John Snowden, director of blood and bone marrow transplantation at Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire Hospital, said, “We are thrilled with the results – they are a game changer for patients with drug resistant and disabling multiple sclerosis.”
The treatment costs around the same as the annual price of some MS drugs. However, doctors caution that stem cell transplants are not suitable for all patients, and that the process can be grueling.
The results were presented at the yearly European Society for Bone and Marrow Transplantation meeting in Lisbon, Portugal.