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Stem Cell Transplants May Treat Aggressive MS

Study Shows Improvements in MS Patients Who Replace Bone Marrow With Stem Cells

Following Stem Cell Transplants in MS continued...

“When we’re transplanting patients with autoimmune diseases and especially for something like progressive MS, secondary or primary progressive MS, or even relapsing-remitting MS, we’re really interested in what’s happening over the longer term,” Nash says.

Because patients with MS sometimes go through periods where their disease appears to be dormant before it becomes active again, it can be difficult for researchers to tell if an improvement would have happened naturally or if it is the result of treatment, he explains.

“The progression-free survivals at three, four, and five years in this group were 80%. So they were very high, and people were very hopeful,” Nash says.

Based on this report, however, it now appears that at least some of that early benefit may not have been related to treatment, he says.

But he says the study has helped to better define which patients may respond to stem cells.

Best Candidates for Stem Cell Transplants

Stem cells have long been used to treat cancer patients, but they are still considered experimental in autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis.

But many believe they offer great hope.

“It’s the only therapy to date that has been shown to reverse neurologic deficits,” says Richard K. Burt, MD, chief of the division of medicine-immunotherapy for autoimmune diseases at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “But you have to get the right group of patients.”

In Burt’s study, which was published in The Lancet in 2009, 17 out of 21 patients with relapsing-remitting MS improved after stem cell transplants, and none had gotten worse after an average of three years.

As a follow-up to that study, Burt and collaborators in Brazil and Sweden are recruiting patients for a study comparing stem cell transplants to Tysabri, a biologic drug, for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. He is not involved in the current research.

“You have to do it earlier in the disease, that’s where the excitement is, and that’s why we’re doing the randomized trial,” Burt says.

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