New Study: Stem Cells Show Promise For Multiple Sclerosis

A new study shows stem cell technology may be more efficient than current treatment for MS patients.

Key takeaways:
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    A new Italian study finds stem cells from bone marrow effective against multiple sclerosis (MS).
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    Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the central nervous system and can vary in severity.
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    New U.S. project aims to show the benefits of stem cells for multiple sclerosis (MS).

Italian researchers released an observational study last week exploring stem cell treatments on active patients with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS). Their findings show autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT) may be more effective than current methods.

According to data from the National MS Society, nearly one million people live with MS in the United States.

What is multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a long-lasting central nervous system disease. It is unpredictable, and its effects may differ depending on the individual. The possible causes of MS may vary from autoimmune disorders, viruses, and environmental or genetic factors.

Initial symptoms of MS include blurred or double vision, red-green color distortion, vision complications, odd feelings or pain featuring numbness, prickling, or pins and needles. No test currently exists for diagnosing MS. To be diagnosed with MS, two MS attacks must occur at least one month apart, and central nervous system myelin receives more than one area of damage.

More symptoms of MS:

  • Muscle weakness.
  • Poor coordination makes walking difficult.
  • Partial or complete paralysis.
  • Trouble speaking.
  • Cognitive issues include concentration, attention, memory, and poor judgment.

Findings from the Italian study

The Italian study compared AHSCT with other anti-inflammatory disease-modifying therapies (DMT) in those with long-term difficulties increasing due to SPMS. Over 10 years of data were surveyed on 79 individuals who received AHSCT treatments, and 1,975 individuals treated with different MS therapies.

After five years, patients receiving AHSCT treatments as opposed to disease-modifying therapies were able to slow the progression of disabilities associated with SPMS and, in some cases, provide improvement.

SPMS is a form of MS that follows relapsing-remitting MS. Individuals with SPMS no longer experience relapsed symptoms followed by improvement but find their disabilities worsening.

AHSCT is a bone marrow transplantation to reset the immune system. AHSCT is currently not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Association (FDA) for MS, but clinical trials are underway to evaluate its success rate compared to existing treatments.

Are AHSCT treatments safe?

According to Multiple Sclerosis Australia, AHSCT treatments carry a higher risk than most approved therapies. Side effects may include a high risk of severe infections, effects on fertility, and an increased risk of cancers.

Despite this, well-known American actress Elma Blair from the films Hellboy and Legally Blonde underwent AHSCT therapy and saw her MS enter remission. Blair has a documentary on Discovery+ documenting her journey with MS.

Other celebrities with MS:

  • Christina Applegate.
  • Montel Williams.
  • Jamie-Lynn Sigler.
  • Tamia Hill.
  • Noah '40' Shebib.

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are cells that can transform into different types of cells in the body, including blood, the brain, bones, and all remaining bodily organs — serving as a repair system. Many medical professionals believe stem cells have the potential for breakthrough treatments for congenital disabilities and cancer.

Few FDA-approved stem cell treatments exist; a complete list is available here. Many advertised treatments may be false, so it is important to conduct research before seeking therapy. Over 1,500 U.S. businesses operate clinics promoting stem cell treatments that are not FDA-approved. Stem cell products are only used to treat certain cancers along with various blood and immune disorders in the U.S. at this time.

The BEAT- MS project

The Immune Tolerance Network (ITN) is a collaborative network for clinical research focused on developing therapeutic approaches for various conditions. One of their current projects is BEAT-MS, a study comparing chemotherapy followed by AHSCT against the most effective treatments currently available.

Those eligible for the currently enrolling BEAT-MS project must be between 18 and 55, diagnosed with relapsing-remitting or secondary progressive MS, and have little relief from MS medication within three years.

Study locations for the BEAT-MS project are all over the U.S., with many sites currently recruiting or beginning to open soon. The AHSCT treatments last for three months and involve several steps. These include stem cell prep, stem-cell collection, chemotherapy, and re-infusion of the stem cells.


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