Stem Cell Therapy: A Breakthrough Against MS?

The procedure involves removing stem cells from a patient’s blood and then using powerful chemotherapy drugs to knock down the existing immune system.

After that, the stored stem cells are injected back into the patient and the immune system rebuilds itself over time.

It requires a long hospital stay, plus a period of several months during which patients are severely immunosuppressed, Bebo said.

In the current study, three patients died after their transplant, but none occurred after 2007.

“This is important evidence,” said Dr. Alexander Rae-Grant, neurologist and fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. “But that doesn’t prove [stem cell transplant] is better than the standard treatments we currently have. “

Still, Rae-Grant said, the longer-term data offer some assurance about the safety of the procedure for patients with MS, and further evidence that this is a “reasonable approach.”

Like Bebo, he highlighted the overall question: when is it best to try a stem cell transplant?

Currently, Rae-Grant said, the general opinion is that the approach may be best for patients with relapsing-remitting MS who are relatively young and have “very active” disease despite medication.

The trick, according to Rae-Grant, is to strike a balance: Doctors wouldn’t want to be too aggressive in using stem cell transplants, but would also want to intervene early enough to prevent disability as much as possible.

Clinical trials, including one in the United States called BEAT-MS, are underway to directly test stem cell transplantation against the most effective MS drugs.

Ideally, eligible patients would participate in a clinical trial, said Dr Matilde Inglese, one of the researchers in the ongoing study.

Otherwise, they should visit one of the few medical centers with extensive experience in using the procedure for MS, said Inglese, head of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at the University of Genoa, Italy.

Bebo made this point. It is not, he said, a business that can be carried out in self-proclaimed “stem cell clinics” that advertise their services for various conditions.

Even when done in a reputable medical center, other issues arise including the cost.

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Jothi Venkat

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