January 28, 2015

Stem cell therapies have resulted in countless life-changing treatments and cures for patients suffering from a vast range of diseases. Stem cell research involving adult stem cells, such as those derived from cord blood and bone marrow, is resulting in revolutionary changes to the way healthcare professionals approach the care and treatment of many diseases and disorders. One of those diseases is multiple sclerosis, or MS. What is stem cell research doing to impact this disease? According to a study recently published in a medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, stem cell treatments are improving the lives of those suffering from this disease.

MS is a degenerative inflammatory disease affecting the nerves of the brain and spinal cord. The disease causes patients to experience episodes with a wide range and severity of painful and debilitating symptoms, primarily causing visual, motor, and sensory disruptions. There is no cure for MS, only medications to ease the symptoms. The drug mitoxantrone is one MS patients have long been dependent on to manage their disease. While the drug does not cure MS, it can help slow the advancement of a progressive secondary subset of the illness that many MS patients experience, as well as prolong the time between relapses.

A discovery announced in the February issue of Neurology, however, has given MS patients renewed hope in treating this disease. The results of the stem cell study states that stem cell transplants may be more effective at managing MS than the common, currently prescribed drug regimen1.

The four-year study focused on 21 MS patients who had experienced worsening symptoms in the previous year even though they were on a prescribed MS drug schedule. All participants were classified as disabled, each of whom required a cane or crutches to walk. The experiment began with all participants receiving the same baseline immunosuppressant drug treatment, then they were divided into two groups. Part of the group then continued with their current, conventional drug treatment of mitoxantrone, while the rest were given an autologous stem cell transplant harvested from their own bone marrow.

At the end of the four-year study, the participants returned for a final reexamination. The researchers found that those receiving a stem cell transplant fared much better than those who had only taken the medication. They noted the most significant results when examining the brains for any new damage. The stem cell patients had 80 percent fewer T2 lesions on their brain than did the other group, and none of those stem group had developed gadolinium-enhancing lesions, while more than half of those in the medication group did.

The results are promising in the treatment of MS in the future. The team is anticipating expanding on these stem cell research findings by conducting more testing with a larger number of participants.

  • Muraro, Paolo A. MD, PhD; Andiamo! Moving forward with autologous hematopoietic transplantation for highly active MS. Neurology® 2015;84:1–2. Found online: http://goo.gl/JoW5oC
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