Innovation

A Cure For Multiple Sclerosis? Combination Chemotherapy And Stem Cell Transplant Reverses Symptoms

When it comes to a multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis, patients receive both good news and bad news. The good news is that the disease is probably not deadly; it’s about the same as the general population. The bad news: it’s an incurable neurodegenerative disease that will likely take away your ability to speak, walk, and see. That is, until now.

For the first time ever, a clinical trial has shown that a combination treatment of both chemotherapy and stem cell therapy could significantly reverse the effects of aggressive relapsing MS in 24 patients. The study, now published in The Lancet, even describes what may be the first ever remission recorded in medical history. That’s right, the treatment, normally reserved for leukemia patients, may have cured MS, The Telegraph reported.

the-syringe Although the results are promising, the treatment is very aggressive on the body. Pixabay, Public Domain

For some time now, doctors have debated whether MS is actually an autoimmune disease rather than a neurodegenerative one. This is because with MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheaths that cover nerve fibers through the central nervous system. Although the condition is currently incurable, there are treatments that can speed recovery from MS attacks, making it easier to manage symptoms.

The treatment involves giving patients a medication that forces the stem cells inside their bone marrow to enter the bloodstream. From there, the cells can be harvested, purified, and frozen. Once this is done, the patient’s immune system is completely eradicated with chemo. Then, the patient has their frozen stem cells transplanted back into their bone marrow in an effort to give them a fresh immune system. Looking at MS as an autoimmune disease, this approach makes sense, as it may reboot the immune system to operate without destroying the body.

At the end of the trial, which began seven years ago, 40 percent of patients experienced a reversal in symptoms, which included loss of vision and balance and muscle weakness. Perhaps the most significant outcome from the study, though, is the recovery of one patient, Jennifer Molson. Diagnosed with MS in 1996, Molson has made a near complete recovery since undergoing the innovative treatment in 2002. Not even five years after her diagnosis, Molson was living in a hospital under 24-hour care and using a cane, walker, and wheelchair to get around, Vox reported. Today, Molson is living without any assisted care and has no trouble walking.

“Jennifer, she freaked me out one day when she came to the clinic wearing high heels. This was a girl who could barely walk,” researcher Dr. Mark Freedman told The Telegraph.

While the results are promising, having been hailed as “close to curative,” they are not without their risks. The treatment is especially tough on the body; during the trials, one patient died of liver failure while another required intensive care for liver complications.

“This treatment does offer hope, but it’s also an aggressive procedure that comes with substantial risks and requires specialist aftercare,” Dr. Emma Gray, head of clinical trials at the MS Society, told The Telegraph. “If anyone is considering HSCT we’d recommend they speak to their neurologist.”

Source: Atkins HL, Bowman M, Allan D, et al. Immunoablation and autologous haemopoietic stem-cell transplantation for aggressive multiple sclerosis: a multicentre single-group phase 2 trial. The Lancet . 2016

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