Stem cells reverse MS in pioneering new study

A small clinical trial has shown that when multiple sclerosis patients received a stem cell transplant alongside their chemotherapy, the majority demonstrated improvements in their quality of life.

The exciting new study was published this month, and was conducted on 110 patients with relapsing-remitting MS over an 11 year period. It compared two groups: one given standard disease-modifying therapy (DMT), the other given a hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) alongside chemotherapy.

After evaluations at 1 year and 5 year points, researchers found that 34 patients in the DMT group demonstrated diseases progression, compared to only 3 in the HSCT group. In the first year, mean EDSS score (expanded disability status scale) also improved in the HSCT group, whereas it worsened in the DMT group.

One participant in the study, 28 year old Amanda Loy, participated in the trial and was given the stem cell transplant:

It sounds so dramatic, but [the treatment] gave me my life back…I didn’t really expect all of these improvements. I went into it thinking, ‘If I at least don’t get worse from this point, that’ll be okay.’ So all the improvements have been totally unexpected but a nice surprise, that’s for sure.

Before the transplant, Amanda was severely affected by her multiple sclerosis. She couldn’t work full time, had bladder problems and needed to rely on a cane to walk. However just one year after the transplant using stem cells from her own blood, she noticed astonishing improvements. She no longer suffered from bladder symptoms, fatigue, numbness in her limbs, heat intolerance or nerve pain.

Eleven years on, Amanda’s MS has progressed so much that she is back to working as a full time teacher in the US. She’s even able to play sports and has no need for MS medication.

It’s the best evidence comparing stem cell transplants to standard therapy…This is one of the first pieces of proof that, yes, patients who have aggressive MS do better after a transplant than with the standard therapy.

Harry Atkins, stem cell transplant physician, Ottawa Hospital

There is no doubt; the results of this preliminary clinical trial are impressive. However the study holds its limitations, as it’s only proven beneficial for patients with less-conventional relapsing-remitting MS. Further research and clinical trials will be needed to open the possibility for more widely available stem cell transplants for treating multiple sclerosis.