Recent years have seen hopeful progress in a search for a cure for multiple sclerosis (MS), a neurological disorder affecting millions of people worldwide.
The latest comes from the UK, where the BBC reports that in a small clinical trial at the Sheffield Royal Hallamshire Hospital, researchers have used an existing cancer treatment to reverse MS symptoms in several patients.
The therapy is called autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT). It uses chemotherapy to break down the weak immune system, then rebuilds it using stem cells that come from the patients blood.
The key, researchers say, is the fact that the cells are so young they have not developed the flaws that appear in MS.
MS damages the insulating layer – called myeline – that surrounds and protects nerves in the brain and spinal cord. When the myeline wears away the nerves are exposed to damage. The damage interrupts the flow of information from the brain to muscles, affecting balance and the ability to walk.
Currently, there are treatments that can keep the damage from getting worse but, as yet, no cure.
The BBC's Panorama program was granted exclusive access to the patients who underwent the experimental treatment. Some have made remarkable progress.
Holly Drewry was 21 years old when doctors told her she had MS. The condition got worse after her daughter was born.
Drewry told Panorama that she was confined to a wheel chair when she entered the hospital for the treatment. When it was over, she said she walked out.
Not all the cases are as dramatic as that, but the results are providing encouragement to MS researchers on both sides of the Atlantic.
At ConsumerAffairs we have followed the progress of the Biogen drug anti-LINGO-1, which has shown promise in reversing the demyelination of the nerves. It works by blocking LINGO-1, a central nervous system protein that prevents myelination.
Since our first report in 2014, the drug has gone through Phase II clinical trials. In a press release last week, PharmaLive reported that Biogen's chief medical officer told an investor conference that the results of anti-LINGO-1's Phase II trial will be reported “soon.”
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS can cause many symptoms, including blurred vision, loss of balance, poor coordination, slurred speech, tremors, numbness, extreme fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, paralysis, blindness, and more.
These problems may come and go or persist and worsen over time. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, although individuals as young as two and as old as 75 have developed it.