The British medical journal Lancet has published some startling – but welcome – news. A clinical trial of a high-risk treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS) was so successful with some patients that researchers are daring to mention the word “cure.”
Some of the patients in the trial were severely disabled by the disease, which destroys the protective coating around nerve cells in the brain. After the treatment they received in the trial, they are walking, running, and in one instance, downhill skiing.
The treatment is a radical one. It uses chemotherapy to attack and destroy the patient's immune system, then rebuilds it. Scientists rebuild the immune system by transplanting healthy stem cells obtained from the patient's bone marrow.
Of the 24 patients who received the treatment seven years ago, researchers say 70% saw the disease stop and not return. Forty percent experienced a reversal of symptoms that affected eyesight, balance, and overall weakness.
Substantial recovery of neurological function
“We describe the first treatment to fully halt all detectable CNS inflammatory activity in patients with multiple sclerosis for a prolonged period in the absence of any ongoing disease-modifying drugs,” the researchers wrote. “Furthermore, many of the patients had substantial recovery of neurological function despite their disease's aggressive nature.”
More than 2.3 million people around the world have MS, interrupting the circuitry between the brain and the body. It usually strikes young adults.
Currently, doctors can manage the disease but have not found a cure. Current treatments for MS have focused on reducing new damage to the brain, but the person with the disease is left with the damage it has already caused.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, many symptoms are attributable to MS, including diminished vision, lack of balance, poor coordination, difficulty speaking, tremors, numbness, extreme fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, and paralysis.
The trial using the stem cell transplants was carried out by researchers at the University of Ottawa. Another trial, at Sheffield, in the UK, achieved similar promising results.