Multiple Sclerosis Stem Cell Treatment: FAQ
Jan. 19, 2016 -- Multiple sclerosis experts are welcoming a groundbreaking treatment that shows promise for some people with the disease. It uses harvested stem cells to reset patients’ immune systems and reverse some of the symptoms of MS.
An update on the treatment, developed at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals in the United Kingdom, was recently featured in a British television program. Cameras followed four people with the relapsing-remitting form of the disease as they got treated.
The treatment is called an autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplant (AHSCT, sometimes also shortened to HSCT). In the United States, two hospitals in Chicago and Seattle offer it, according to The Immune Renewal Foundation.
But MS charities say stem cell therapy isn't right for all people with the condition.
Here are some questions and answers about the new the treatment and how it could help.
How Does the New Treatment Work?
The goal of AHSCT is to reset your immune system to stop it from attacking nerve cells in your body. It’s used for other conditions as well, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes.
During the treatment, doctors collect bone marrow stem cells from your blood and freeze them. These "haematopoietic stem cells" are at such an early stage of development that they haven't acquired the flaws that trigger MS.
Your faulty immune system is then destroyed using chemotherapy. The thawed-out stem cells are re-infused into your blood to reboot your immune system.
"The immune system is being reset or rebooted back to a time point before it caused MS," says John Snowden, MD, consultant hematologist at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, U.K.
What does the latest research say?
The most recent study showed that in 123 people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, AHSCT was linked to a 64% reduction in disability on average.
Eighty percent of the people treated who were followed for 4 years had no more relapses, and 87% had no worsening of their level of disability.
In Sheffield, around 20 patients have so far been treated at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital.