Stem Cells Eyed for Possible MS Treatment

Researchers from the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University have been successful in showing that early stage multiple sclerosis may be reversed by using stem cells. In the said trial, the researchers, headed by Dr. Richard Burt, MD and chief of immunotherapy for autoimmune diseases at the Feinberg School, transplanted immune stem cells of patients with early-stage multiple sclerosis into their own bodies. The stem cells also came from the patients and allowed their immune systems to reset.

The clinical trial was performed at the Northwestern Memorial Hospital where Dr. Burt was also the chief. The patients in the Phase I and II of the said trial was composed of 21 patients ranging from 20 to 53 years old and have had relapsing-remitting MS for five years that has not responded to at least a six month treatment using interferon beta.

The study required Dr. Burt and his colleagues to treat the patients with chemotherapy in order to destroy the immune system. The patients were then injected with their own stem cells which were obtained from the patients’ blood before the chemotherapy. This initiated the development of a new immune system in the patients.

After following up with the patients in the study three years after transplantation, the researchers noted that 17 of the patients showed improvement by at least one point of the disability scale. Not only that, the disease also seem to stabilize in all of the patients. "In MS, the immune system is attacking your brain," Dr. Burt said. "After the procedure, it doesn’t do that anymore."

"We focus on destroying only the immune component of the bone marrow and then regenerate the immune component, which makes the procedure much safer and less toxic than traditional chemotherapy for cancer," Dr. Burt said. After the transplantation procedure, the patients new immune cells become self-tolerant and do not attack the immune system.

The said procedure was also done in previous studies on patients with late stage MS but with no positive results. "It didn’t help in the late stages, but when we treat them in the early stage, they get better and continue to get better," Dr. Burt said.

Source: Northwestern University. "Stem Cell Transplant Reverses Early-stage Multiple Sclerosis." ScienceDaily 29 January 2009. 3 February 2009


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