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29 Jan 2015
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Stem Cell Treatment Shows Sustained Remission of Multiple Sclerosis

Stem cells have the potential to treat a number of medical conditions including degenerative disorders like multiple sclerosis. Although, most of the stem cell therapies are in clinical trials, they are showing promising results so far. Recently, a study on multiple sclerosis using High-Dose Immunosuppressive Therapy (HDIT) and autologous haematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) showed sustained remission of the disorder for over three years now.

The research titled ‘Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation for Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (HALT-MS)’ is an ongoing phase 2 multicenter clinical trial. This trial is mainly for patients with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) who had lost their neurologic function while they underwent other therapies 18 months prior to the enrolment in the current research. 25 patients were selected for this 5-year research in which a 3-year interim report got published in the journal, JAMA Neurology.

Multiple Sclerosis affects around 2.3 million people across the globe and has become one of the most common autoimmune disorders affecting the central nervous system. It is a degenerative condition in which the patient’s immune system attacks the protective myelin sheets that cover the nerves. The damage causes nerve deterioration and disconnects the communication between brain and the rest of the body. Severe MS may cause inability to walk, numbness, blurred vision, muscle stiffness etc.

This research focuses on the strategy of rebooting the patient’s immune system in two steps: Using high dose immunosuppressive therapy followed by injecting the patient’s own haematopoietic (blood producing) stem cells. This technique was pioneered from the common treatment option used in leukemia and other types of cancers. Here, the patients are treated with high doses of drugs to wipe off their immune system and then provide doses of autologous (self) stem cells to recreate healthy immune system.

About 80 per cent of the enrolled patients showed promising results in the research; there is no increase in the disability, relapse of the symptoms or development of any new brain lesions. However, there were few side effects and complications observed in the trial. This technique doesn’t cure the disorder but freezes the symptoms and halts further decline. This therapy promises to freeze the symptoms before it becomes worse and thereby improves the patients’ quality of life.

If the study gets confirmed, HDIT/HCT therapy will become a potential treatment option for people with debilitating disorders. Some doctors believe that the procedure is expensive and involve risks, so it can be used only for patients who have exhausted other treatment options.

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