multiple sclerosis, MS, stem cells treat MS

Stem Cells Could Be Used to Treat MS, Study Says

February 02, 2009 01:07 PM
by Emily Coakley
A new study holds promising results for multiple sclerosis, as stem cells continue to show the potential to treat a wide range of problems.

MS Study Most Recent Breakthrough Involving Adult Stem Cells

What this actually did is that it reversed disability. This is the first time we have turned the tide on this disease,” said Dr. Richard Burt, chief of immunotherapy for autoimmune diseases at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Burt was speaking about a study published in The Lancet Neurology this week on the use of adult stem cells in treating multiple sclerosis.

With multiple sclerosis, a person’s immune system attacks the central nervous system. The small study involved 21 patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, in which symptoms occur, disappear and later reappear. Vision, speech and movement can be affected.

The study’s subjects had stem cells taken from their own bodies, and then they received chemotherapy to destroy their immune systems. Their stem cells were injected, and formed new immune systems that didn’t attack the CNS.

Bloomberg summarized the results of the study: “Three years after being treated, on average, 17 of the patients had improved on tests of their symptoms, 16 had experienced no relapse and none had deteriorated.”

Burt tempered his enthusiasm by saying the small study needs replication: “It’s encouraging, but, honestly, it’s unproven until you have a randomized trial that proves it,” the Sun-Times quoted him as saying.

According to Bloomberg, Burt is currently recruiting 55 patients for a new trial

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Background: Research advances in stem cells, multiple sclerosis

In the past several months, peer-reviewed journals have detailed numerous advances involving stem cell research, usually with adult stem cells.

A Spanish woman, for example, received a new trachea coated with her own stem cells, according to a case study published in the fall. The stem cell coating has enabled her immune system to recognize the new trachea, eliminating the need to take medication to prevent rejection.

Adult stem cells are also being used to repair cartilage tears in the knee, and are being used to fix serious injuries in horses. And experiments at the National Institutes of Health are trying to grow spinal disks and muscles.

Embryonic stem cell research continues as well, with regulators in the United States and United Kingdom approving trials in January. The study in Britain will use embryonic stem cells to treat stroke victims; the American trial will study spinal cord injuries.

Because of embryonic stem cells’ origins and an ethical debate surrounding their use, embryonic stem cell research has been limited in the United States. Former President George W. Bush prohibited federal funds from being used in research involving embryonic stem cells derived after August 2001. Privately funded embryonic stem cell studies and research using adult stem cells did not have the same federal restrictions.

Multiple sclerosis treatment has made progress, too. Studies published last fall suggested that two separate drugs, the leukemia medication alemtuzumab and a new experimental drug oral fumarate, showed promise in treating or halting the disease.

Voice of America called alemtuzumab, known by its trade name Campath, “the most promising and most significant MS treatment yet discovered” because “it seems to halt the disease in its early stages and repair damaged functioning in patients,” wrote findingDulcinea.

Opinion & Analysis: “Encouraging results”

The MS study isn’t “directly pertinent” to the embryonic stem cell debate because adult stem cells were involved, writes a blogger called “Joseph j7uy5” on the site Corpus Callosum.

But he expects that people will say embryonic stem cells should not be used when adult stem cells will work. “This is a bogus argument, but we can expect that it will be aired again,” he writes.

He called the MS study “encouraging,” but pointed out that the treatment isn’t “benign” because it includes using chemotherapy to destroy a person’s existing immune system.

Paul Raven, writing on Futurismic, likens the treatment in the study to “the biological equivalent of a complete oil change.” He called the results “pretty impressive” and predicts more revelations: “I think we’re going to see a lot of awesome stuff come out of the stem cell field over the next decade, especially now there’s a US administration that isn’t actively hostile to it on moral grounds.”

Reference: Multiple sclerosis Web guide


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