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New Multiple Sclerosis Stem Cell Study Shows Improvements

multiple sclerosis and stem cells

Treatment with a form of stem cell transplantation in individuals with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis has demonstrated improvements in neurological disability, quality of life, and cognitive function. The new study, which appears in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, did not show similar positive results for individuals with secondary progressive MS.


Numerous scientific teams have been exploring the use of stem cell transplantation for multiple sclerosis. A form known as hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), which is the form used in this study and various others, involves giving patients an intravenous infusion of their own (autologous) stem cells that have been harvested from peripheral blood or bone marrow in an effort to reset immune system functioning.

The new study was conducted by Richard Burt, MD, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and his colleagues. They enrolled 123 individuals with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis and 28 with secondary progressive MS who had been treated with HSCT between 2003 and 2014. There was no control group.

At a median follow-up of 30 months, here’s what they found in the 145 patients who were evaluated:

  • On the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) score, 41 patients (50% of those tested at 24 months) and 23 patients (64% tested at 48 months) showed significant improvement in their scores. This finding is important because, according to the authors “this is the first report of significant and sustained improvement in the EDSS score following any treatment for MS.”
  • HSCT was associated with an improvement in physical abilities, cognitive function, quality of life, and reduction in the volume of brain lesions as noted using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • The four-year relapse-free survival rate was 80 percent and the progression-free survival rate was 87 percent
  • EDSS scores did not get better in individuals with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis or in those who had had MS for more than 10 years

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Other stem cell research for MS
The interim results of another recent study were released several months ago regarding the use of high-dose immunosuppressive therapy (chemotherapy) and HSCT in 24 patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. All the individuals are participating in the Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation for Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (HALT-MS) study.

At the three-year point in the five-year study, the researchers found

  • An improvement in functional scores, neurological disability, and quality of life
  • A progression-free survival rate of 90.9 percent
  • Clinical relapse-free survival of 86.3 percent

Another type of stem cell therapy for multiple sclerosis has been under investigation by researchers at the New York Stem Cell Foundation. They found that skin samples from individuals with primary progressive multiple sclerosis can be used to develop pluripotent stem cell lines, which are capable of perpetually making more and more copies of themselves and other tissues or cells the body needs.

The scientists created a way to take the stem cells and transform them into oligodendrocytes, which are the cells that make the protective covering (myelin) on nervous system cells. Researchers are hopeful this discovery will eventually lead to new treatments or even cures for multiple sclerosis.

Burt RK et al. Association of nonmyeloablative hematopoietic stem cell transplantation with neurological disability in patients with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis. Journal of the American Medical Association 2015; 313(3): 275-84