A clinical trial using stem cells is the first treatment to fully halt all detectable central nervous system inflammatory activity in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).
The therapy, which involves destroying a patient’s immune system then rebuilding it through stem cell transplantation, also helped some patients to recover neurological function.
The method fully halted relapses and the development of new brain lesions in 23 of 24 patients with multiple sclerosis for a prolonged period without the need for ongoing medication.
However, one patient died after chemotherapy.
Progressive brain deterioration typical of MS slowed to a rate associated with normal aging in nine patients. After three years, six patients were able to reduce or stop receiving disability insurance and return to work or school.
Details of the phase 2 clinical trial were announced in the medical journal The Lancet.
This is the first treatment to produce this level of disease control or neurological recovery from MS but the risks of this therapy limit its widespread use.
MS, among the most common chronic inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system, is caused when the immune system attacks the body.
The research was conducted by Dr Harold L Atkins and Dr Mark S Freedman from The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa in Canada.
Dr Freedman says the the results need to be interpreted with caution.
“The sample size of 24 patients is very small, and no control group was used for comparison with the treatment group,” he says.
“Larger clinical trials will be important to confirm these results.
“Since this is an aggressive treatment, the potential benefits should be weighed against the risks of serious complications.”
Dr Jan Dörr, from the NeuroCure Clinical Research Center in Berlin, says the results are impressive and seem to outbalance any other available treatment for multiple sclerosis.
“This trial is the first to show complete suppression of any inflammatory disease activity in every patient for a long period.
“So, will this study change our approach to treatment of multiple sclerosis? Probably not in the short term, mainly because the mortality rate will still be considered unacceptably high.”
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