An international study, using stem cells to treat multiple sclerosis has been hailed a ‘game changer’ for sufferers. The treatment involves wiping out a patients immune system using chemotherapy and then rebuilding it with a stem cell transplant. Results from the trial showed that it was able to stop the disease and improve symptoms in participants.
100 patients took part in the international trial at hospitals in Sheffield, Chicago, Brazil and Sweden – each one had relapsing remitting MS, which comes in waves of attacks and relapses followed by periods of remission before the next attack.
50 patients received the stem cell transplant and the other 50 were treated with a traditional drug therapy. The interim results were released in Lisbon at the annual meeting of the European Society for Bone and Marrow Transplantation.
- After year one 39 patients in the drug group suffered a relapse, by stark contrast only one patient who had the stem cell therapy relapsed
- After year three, the stem cell transplant had failed in 6% of patients (3 out of 50) this compared to a treatment failure of 60% (30 out of 50) in the control group
- Overall those who received the stem cell transplant demonstrated improvement with a reduction in disability, whereas symptoms worsened in the traditional drug therapy group
Prof John Snowden, haematologist and director of blood and bone marrow transplantation at Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire Hospital, told the BBC:
“We are thrilled with the results – they are a game changer for patients with drug resistant and disabling multiple sclerosis”.
Cells4Life recently attended the All Party Parliamentary Group on Stem Cell Transplantation at the House of Commons where Mark Tammi MP chaired a meeting with two of the Professors involved in the Sheffield arm of the trial:
- Professor John Snowdon – Consultant Haematologist and Director of Blood and Marrow
- Professor Basil Sharrack – Consultant Neurologist and Director of the Sheffield MS Research Clinic
During the meeting, Professor Sharrack explained that the current strategies for treating multiple sclerosis involve the use of disease modifying drugs, which are very expensive over the period of a sufferers lifetime. Whilst the upfront cost of a haematopoietic stem cell transplant, around £30,000, sounds high, as a one-off treatment it is far more cost-effective in the long term and appears to deliver far better quality of life.
Professor Sharrack said “the aim of using autologous HSCT to treat MS is to get to a point where the patient shows no evidence of disease activity”, which is defined as defined as no relapses, no sustained disability progression and no MRI activity.
Colette Beecher, an MS patient, who was also in attendance at the APPG, talked about how MS had impacted her work and family life. Following her diagnosis she tried two different types of drug therapy – but was still prone to relapses.
In 2016 she took part in one of the earlier clinical trials; she was apprehensive about the side effects of chemotherapy such has nausea and hair loss. However, her autologous HSCT was a success and she is now in good health and after two months was active again and after four months was back to work.
Talking about her treatment Colette said
“I now have the possibility of living a life without MS and contemplating a future without disability. This is a future that HSCT has given me”
Colette Beecher documented her journey in a blog www.coletteandhsct.wordpress.com
What is multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the brain and spinal cord affecting 1 in 1000 people in the UK. Nerve damage is caused when auto reactive cells attack the nerves and their protective coating called the myelin sheath. Patients also experience a variety of symptoms that can include difficulties with movement and speech. The causes of MS are unknown and the condition typically manifests in people in their 20s and 30s.