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Stem cell transplant might slow rapidly progressing MS

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers from the American Academy of Neurology report a long-term study found giving patients with MS chemotherapy, followed by their own bone marrow stem cells, can “reboot” the immune system and slow down aggressiveness of multiple sclerosis.

The scientists also note stem cell transplant for treating multiple sclerosis should be reserved for patients experiencing rapid decline and is not a therapy that can be used in the general population.

The stem cells are given after a type of chemotherapy that knocks out the immune system.

Stem cell transplant lowered odds of worsening MS

Researchers studied 35 patients given stem cell transplant whose multiple sclerosis had not responded to other treatments and who had rapidly progressing MS. After receiving the stem cell rescue treatment, the chances of worsening MS was 25 percent after fifteen years.

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For those with active disease at the time of transplant, identified by brain lesions, the likelihood of disease progression was 44 percent.

The study participants were able to walk with assistive devices or were in a wheelchair and had experienced worsening multiple sclerosis a year prior to the study, with an average score of 6 on a 1 to 10 scale that rates severity of symptoms. A severity score of six means the patients used a cane or other assistive device to walk, and a seven means a wheelchair is needed.

Symptoms improved for two years

After stem cell transplant, 16 of the 35 participants experienced a one-point improvement in symptoms that lasted an average of 2 years. Brain lesions associated with MS were also reduced. Two patients died as the result of treatment.

Vasilios Kimiskidis, MD, of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Medical School in Thessaloniki, Greece says more research is needed to compare the stem cell transplant to patients to a matched group who aren’t given the treatment.
Dr. Kimiskidis explains stem cell transplant might benefit patient with rapidly progressing multiple sclerosis and should be reserved for treating active cases of the disease that are still in the inflammatory phase.

"Long-term results of stem cell transplantation for MS: A single-center experience"
doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e318211c53
A. Fassas, MD, V.K. Kimiskidis, MD, I. Sakellari, MD, K. Kapinas, MD, A. Anagnostopoulos, MD, V. Tsimourtou, K. Sotirakoglou, PhD and A. Kazis, MD

Photo credit: morguefile.com