A team of scientists from Thessaloniki, Greece, have shown that chemotherapy followed by adult stem cell transplant can stop progression of aggressive multiple sclerosis (MS).
The team observed a group of 35 patients who received transplants of their own bone marrow adult stem cells after being treated with chemotherapy to wipe out the rogue immune cells that were attacking their nervous system and causing their MS. An average of 11 years after their transplants, 25% of the patients in Greece have not seen their disease progress, the researchers report. Among patients with active lesions on MRI scans before their transplants, indicating that they were in an inflammatory phase of the disease, 44% have not progressed.
For 16 people, symptoms improved by an average of one point on their disability scale after the transplant, and the improvements lasted for an average of two years. The participants also had a reduction in the number and size of lesions in their brains. But two patients died from transplant-related complications. The results are published in the journal Neurology, the journal of the American Association of Neurology. Co-author Dr. Vasilios Kimiskidis said:
“Keeping that in mind, our feeling is that stem cell transplants may benefit people with rapidly progressive MS. This is not a therapy for the general population of people with MS but should be reserved for aggressive cases that are still in the inflammatory phase of the disease.”
Other researchers not associated with the current study commented that this was still a big step forward in the use of adult stem cells to treat MS Dr. Richard Nash of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle noted:
“This is the first long-term paper that’s being published on this.”
Nash is part of a National Institutes of Health trial of stem cell transplants for MS, but he was not involved in the Greek study.
Dr. Richard Burt, Chief of the Division of Medicine-Immunotherapy for Autoimmune Diseases at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, points out:
“It’s the only therapy to date that has been shown to reverse neurologic deficits. But you have to get the right group of patients.”
Burt published a study in 2009 in The Lancet in which 17 out of 21 patients with relapsing-remitting MS improved after stem cell transplants.
In a gentler method of treatment, Prof. Neil Scolding and colleagues published positive results in 2010 for stabilization of MS patients using their own adult stem cells.
Adult stem cells continue to lead the way, showing published evidence of positive benefits for thousands of patients with dozens of diseases and conditions.