Adult Stem Cells, Not Embryonic, Helping Patients With Multiple Sclerosis

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 11, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Adult Stem Cells, Not Embryonic, Helping Patients With Multiple Sclerosis

by Dr. David Prentice
May 11, 2010 Note: Dr. David Prentice is Senior Fellow for Life Sciences at Family Research Council. Up to July 2004 he had spent almost 20 years as Professor of Life Sciences, Indiana State University, and Adjunct Professor of Medical and Molecular Genetics, Indiana University School of Medicine.

A groundbreaking new study published in the last week provides more good news for treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS) with adult stem cells. Researchers at the University of Bristol used patients’ own adult stem cells to treat their MS.

In a Phase I clinical trial, six patients with MS were treated with their own bone marrow adult stem cells and their progress followed for one year. The treatment appeared to stabilized the patients’ condition and showed some benefits. As one measure of the success of the procedure, damaged nerve pathways were able to carry electrical pulses more effectively after the treatment.

Multiple sclerosis is an incurable disease, with the patients own immune system attacking the central nervous system and eventually leaving many patients in a wheelchair.

One of the most encouraging aspects of this trial was the elegantly simple procedure. Patients reported to the hospital and had bone marrow adult stem cells removed, the cells were filtered, and then given back to the patients intravenously. The patients went home before the end of the day.

The research team is led by Professor Neil Scolding, at the University of Bristol and North Bristol NHS Trust. Professor Scolding said:

“We are encouraged by the results of this early study. The safety data are reassuring and the suggestion of benefit tantalising. Research into the underlying mechanisms is ongoing and vital, in order to build on these results. We believe that stem cells mobilised from the marrow to the blood are responsible, and that they help improve disease in several ways, including neuroprotection and immune modulation.”

The team is now planning a Phase II/III study. The report for this trial is published in the Nature journal Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics.

Previous studies have also had good success at stopping MS progression, and in some cases putting patients into remission. Dr. Richard Burt at Northwestern University has published several studies showing good success using adult stem cells to “reboot” the immune system of MS patients. Scientists in Australia have also used the procedure with success, and recently Dr. Mark Freedman of Ottawa, Canada has produced “long-lasting remission” in MS patients.

In these cases, patients had their bone marrow adult stem cells collected, then received chemotherapy to knock the rogue immune cells that were attacking their nervous system. Then their adult stem cells were re-injected. While recent successful treatments have used milder chemotherapy, this is still not a gentle or risk-free procedure for the patient. The new approach by the Bristol team is all the more interesting in this respect, because there is no pre-conditioning with chemotherapy.

An international group of multiple sclerosis researchers have looked at these uses of adult stem cells for treatment of MS, and propose moving forward with additional clinical trials to help patients.

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