Patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) are showing “remarkable improvements” after receiving a treatment usually used for cancer.
Doctors at Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire Hospital have hailed the early results of a clinical trial involving paralysed patients who were given ground breaking stem cell treatment as “miraculous.”
Over the last three years, around 20 patients who have what is known as ‘relapsing remitting MS,’ whereby they experience relapses followed by periods of remission, have been given bone marrow transplants using their own stem cells.
Some have reportedly been able to walk again as a result of the treatment.
The ‘autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) treatment’ uses intensive chemotherapy to destroy a patient’s damaged immune system. Stem cells that haven’t yet developed the flaws that trigger MS are then harvested from a patient’s blood to essentially reboot their immune systems to a time before the onset of MS symptoms.
Royal Hallamshire Hospital’s Professor Basil Sharrack said: “To have a treatment which can potentially reverse disability is really a major achievement.
“Since we started treating patients three years ago, some of the results we have seen have been miraculous. This is not a word I would use lightly, but we have seen profound neurological improvements.”
Multiple sclerosis is an incurable neurological condition that currently affects around 100,000 people in the UK. The disease causes the immune system to mistakenly attack the protective lining found around nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord. It typically affects people between the ages of 20 and 40, and almost three times as many women as men.
An international trial, currently underway in hospitals in the United States, Sweden and Brazil, is aimed at assessing the long-term benefits of HSCT, which currently involves a one-off cost of around £30,000.
According to the early results, HSCT has already had a huge impact on some patients’ lives. Although the treatment will not be effective for all types of MS and the side effects of such aggressive chemotherapy are severe and come with significant risks, there is hope that HSCT becomes a standard NHS treatment for many MS patients.
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