Stem cell transplantation may prove to be a milestone in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, a currently incurable neurological disease. The results of an international clinical trial give new hope as the treatment has managed to stop disease progression and improve the symptoms of the patients.
The announcement was made at the annual conference of the European Society of Bone Marrow Transplantation in Lisbon, according to BBC, as reported by the Athenian News Agency.
The treatment destroys the dysfunctional immune system (directed against the patient) by anticancer chemotherapy drugs and creates a new one after the introduction of stem cells taken from the blood and the patient’s marrow. These stem cells, which were not affected by the disease, then undergo the regeneration of the immune system from the beginning.
The researchers, led by Professor Richard Bartz of the University of Northwestern Chicago, conducted the clinical trial with 102 patients in different countries. All of them suffered from recurrent-intermittent multiple sclerosis, characterized by unpredictable episodes of relapse of the disease, followed by months or years of relative recession.
One patient group transplanted hematopoietic stem cells, while a second control group (for comparison) followed standard medication therapy. After one year, only one relapse occurred in the first group of stem cell treatment, compared with 39 relapses in the second group.
Three years after treatment, the implants had failed in three of the 52 patients who had the stem cell treatment (6%), compared with a failure of the drug therapy in 30 of the 50 patients in the second group (60%). During this three-year period the patients who had received the stem cells and developed a new immune system had fewer kinetic difficulties while those who had taken medication had worsening symptoms.
“The data are impressive in favor of stem cell transplantation in relation to the best available drugs. The neurological community had expressed skepticism about this treatment, but these results will change its mind, “said Dr Barte.
For “the best results I’ve ever seen in any clinical trial on multiple sclerosis,” said Professor of Neurology, Basele Sarrock, of Sheffield’s Royal Hallampsy Hospital. While Professor John Snowden of the same hospital (who participated in the clinical trial) spoke of “an evolution that changes the rules of the game for those patients who resist drug therapy”.