Stem cell transplants hailed ‘a game-changer’ for Multiple Sclerosis patients

Results from an international trial have shown that stem cells have been able to stop the disease and improve symptoms.

Multiple sclerosis is a condition which can affect the spinal cord and/or brain, potentially causing problems with arm and leg movement, vision and sensation. It is estimated that there are over 100,000 people diagnosed with MS in the UK alone.

The treatment involved wiping out the patient’s immune system, before resetting with healthy haematopoietic stem cells.

Prof Basil Sharrack, neurologist and director of MS research at Royal Hallamshire Hospital, told the BBC: "This is interim analysis, but with that caveat, this is the best result I have seen in any trial for multiple sclerosis."

The trial involved just over 100 individuals with MS being treated either with stem cells or traditional drug treatments. Of the stem cell group, only one suffered a relapse compared with 39 of the drug group after one year.

‘After an average follow-up of three years, the transplants had failed in three out of 52 patients (6%), compared with 30 of 50 (60%) in the control group.’

Prof Richard Burt, lead investigator, Northwestern University Chicago, told the BBC: "The data is stunningly in favour of transplant against the best available drugs - the neurological community has been sceptical about this treatment, but these results will change that."

Fergus Walsh, of the BBC, spoke with one of the trial participants;

Louise was diagnosed with MS in 2010 when she was only 28.

She told me: "MS ruled my life and I lived in fear of the next relapse.

"The worst time was not being able to get out of bed because I had no stability in my body - I struggled to walk and even spent time in a wheelchair.

"It also affected my cognition - it was like a brain fog and I misread words and struggled to keep up with conversations."

The BBC's Panorama filmed her undergoing her transplant in October 2015 and she is now back to full health.

She got married to her partner Steve, on the first anniversary of her transplant, and their baby daughter Joy is now a month old.

"I feel like my diagnosis was just a bad dream. I live every day as I want to, rather than planning my life around my MS."

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