Canadian doctors, led by Mark S. Freedman, M.D., were recently able to either completely eliminate or halt the progression of multiple sclerosis in 23 patients who participated in a study that lasted about 13 years. The study was published in the medical journal The Lancet on June 9, 2016. This advancement could be great news for those who suffer from multiple sclerosis. According to the National MS Society, multiple sclerosis affects over 2.3 million people worldwide. Let’s delve into the treatment itself as we seek to answer the question, are stem cells a cure for multiple sclerosis?
Stem cell Treatment for Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis affects the central nervous system, disrupting the flow of information to and from the brain. The treatment tested in the new study involves a combination of chemotherapy and stem cell transplants. First, stem cells are removed from the patient. Second, an aggressive form of chemotherapy is used to suppress the patient’s immune system. Finally, the stem cells are reintroduced into the patient’s body to rebuild the immune system.
The treatment is not an easy process. Of the 24 patients involved in the Ottawa Hospital study, one participant died of liver failure, and another required intensive care for liver complications. Since the initial study, the treatment has been changed to reduce the toll it takes on the liver.
Of the patients who successfully made it through treatment, none experienced a clinical relapse, no new active inflammatory brain lesions were detected, none required drugs to control the disease, and, most importantly, 70 percent of patients experienced a complete halt in the progression of the disease.
“I got my life back.”
Jennifer Molson, an active 21-year-old, took part in the study. She received a stem cell transplant in 2002 at the Ottawa Hospital, six months after her diagnosis. By the time Molson received the stem cells back into her body, she was under 24-hour care at the hospital and needed assistance for the most basic bodily needs.
Today, Molson shows no symptoms of multiple sclerosis and lives an active lifestyle.
“I got my life back,” she says.
While the study indicates promising results, the treatment itself is an arduous process. The risk of death is one in 10. Women who undergo treatment are rendered sterile. Despite such risks, a steady stream of people apply for treatment, eager to take the chance to eliminate the disease from their lives.
Since the initial study, 15 more procedures have been conducted with positive outcomes. The full study can be found in the medical journal The Lancet, published on June 9, 2016.
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