Stem cells used to reverse MS

Bone marrow extracts used to 'reset' sufferer'sown immune system

A new technique for transplanting stem cells into patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) has successfully halted and even reversed the disease, researchers report today. The results are the best seen in more than a decade of research on stem cells in MS and confirm the role of the technology in expanding the frontiers of medicine.

MS is a debilitating neurological condition which affects more than 85,000 people in the UK, causing progressive disability and leaving many wheelchair-bound. It is caused by the body's own immune system attacking and destroying the protective myelin sheath surrounding the nerves, leading to loss of control of the limbs, and other effects. There is no cure and there are few effective treatments.

In the new study, 21 patients with the commonest form of the disease (about 80 per cent of all cases) were treated with stem cells extracted from their own bone marrow.

After extraction, the patients were treated with drugs to remove their white blood cells, known as the "conditioning regimen", and the stem cells were later re-infused to "reset" the immune systems, so it stops attacking the body. Three years after the treatment, carried out between 2003 and 2005, progression of the disease had been halted in all 21 patients and 17 had seen a significant reduction in their disability. Most of the patients were in their twenties and thirties and were in the early stages of the disease.

Previous research has used harsher treatments similar to chemotherapy for cancer which carry a risk of serious side effects and death. The new study used a milder method which had fewer side effects and was "well tolerated", the researchers say.

The study, by researchers from Northwestern University in Chicago, is published in The Lancet Neurology. A commentary published with the American study says that improvement following stem cell transplantation in MS has been seen before "although not as clearly as in [these] results". It says that a large, randomised trial is necessary to establish the place of stem cells as a treatment for the condition.

A spokesman for the Multiple Sclerosis Society said that the researchers were planning a second trial involving 100 patients.

Doug Brown, research manager at the society, said: "These are very encouraging results and it is exciting to see that, in this trial, not only is progression of disability halted, but damage appears to be reversed. Stem cells are showing more and more potential in the treatment of MS and the challenge we now face is proving their effectiveness in trials involving large numbers of people."

Last October, researchers from the University of Cambridge reported dramatic improvement in the condition of MS sufferers treated with alemtuzumab, a 30-year-old drug with an established role as a treatment for leukaemia.

Alemtuzumab was part of the conditioning regimen in most of the patients treated in the new study and the Northwestern University researchers admit that they cannot be certain which caused the beneficial effect – the drug or the stem cells. The planned larger trial is expected to settle the question.

Vicci Chittenden: 'I was tricked by a clinic which offered me hope'

After more than 30 years with multiple sclerosis, Vicci Chittenden was tempted by reports of patients seeing big improvements in their condition after stem cell treatment abroad. She raised several thousand pounds with the help of friends to make the trip to the Netherlands – but was left disappointed and a lot poorer. "The treatment had no effect on me," she said. "The clinic was later shut down because it was a fraud. I had checked it out as carefully as I could before I went but I had thought, 'what have I got to lose?'"

The experience has left its mark. Now 56, she has lived with MS since being diagnosed at the age of 17. She lost the sight in her right eye and, later, her balance was affected, confining her to a wheelchair. But she is cautious about claims made for new treatments.

"These latest results are encouraging and I would love to be part of further stem cell trials," she said. "But the research must be regulated. People are looking for a cure and the return of their health. Stem cells may provide an answer but the research must be carried out under supervision."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    The Jenrick Group: Resident Maintenance Manager

    £50000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Resident Maintenance...

    Recruitment Genius: Front End Web Developer

    £20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Back End Web Developer

    £30000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenance Engineer

    £36500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenan...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'