Stem cell therapy and multiple sclerosis

Over 100,000 people have multiple sclerosis in the UK[1]
It is the most common neurological disease of young adults in the UK[1]
Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40 years[1]
Over 5,000 people are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis every year[2]
Diagnosis is 3x more likely in women than in men[3]

people are diagnosed
with MS each year

What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic and usually progressive disease affecting the central nervous system – the brain and spinal cord. As MS is an autoimmune condition, patients’ immune systems attack and damage the myelin layer that protects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. This causes a broad variety of symptoms that vary in each patient, including impairment of muscle coordination, vision, speech and severe fatigue. Exactly why someone develops MS in the first place is still unknown.[4]

There are estimated to be about 100,000 individuals living with MS in the UK and 5,000 individuals are freshly diagnosed with the disease every year.[1]

MS remains with you for life once you have been diagnosed, but medication and expert assistance can help patients handle the disease and its symptoms to live a long life.

The average age of onset for MS is 34, but due to the varied nature of symptoms it can take a decade or more to receive a diagnosis. The particular symptoms that appear rely on which portion of your central nervous system has been affected and the work of the nerve that has been damaged. However, common early warning signs include changes in vision, tingling or numbness, facial pain and hearing loss.

Stem cell therapy research

Stem cell therapy is viewed as a highly interesting study region for treating multiple sclerosis. Specifically, scientists are researching whether stem cells could slow MS activity and repair current harm already done by replacing defective components of the immune or nervous system. This is still mainly seen as an experimental therapy for MS, although findings so far have been encouraging.

The most studied stem cell therapy for MS uses haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs)[5] – found in cord blood and bone marrow – and is now becoming accessible through the NHS in a small number of hospitals. However, very few people are accepted to undergo this therapy at present.

The second type of stem cell therapy being tested for MS uses mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), like those observed in umbilical cord tissue, dental pulp and bone marrow. Early studies indicate that an infusion of MSCs in progressive MS patients led to improvements in vision and nervous system signal speed.[6]

The research community in the UK in particular is very involved in stem cell therapy for MS. There are groups in London, Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Nottingham and Sheffield.

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