An aggressive chemotherapy and stem cell treatment has halted the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS) in a small group of patients. This exceptionally risky but pioneering technique featured the complete but temporary destruction of their immune systems, as described in the landmark study published in The Lancet.
Twenty-four patients aged between 18 and 50 were chosen for the procedure; they were originally given poor prognoses, meaning that their condition was having or going to have a severe effect later in life. After undergoing this medical trial, 23 of them are now showing no new signs of the disease and experienced no relapses, and some have recovered their mobility. The 24th patient, sadly, died as a result of the procedure.
Although the treatment has its limitations, including its very small sample size and its lack of control group, medical researchers have hailed it as huge step forward in the fight against MS, which is a truly debilitating condition.
“I hesitate to use the c-word. A cure would be stopping all disease moving forward and repairing all damage that has occurred,” Dr. Mark Freedman, the Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Research Unit at Ottawa Hospital and coordinator of the study, told the Guardian. “As far as we can ascertain no new damage seems to occur beyond the treatment and patients don’t need to take any medication, so in that sense, I think it has induced a long-standing remission.”
MS occurs when the person’s own immune system attacks their nerve cells. Andrii Vodolazhskyi/Shutterstock
MS occurs when the linings of nerve cells in both the brain and spinal cord are damaged by the body’s own malfunctioning immune system. A damaged central nervous system limits its ability to send signals to various parts of the body.
Although symptoms can vary, problems with locomotion, balance, vision, and processing thoughts are common. The condition is two to three times more prevalent in women than men. Treatment is difficult and varyingly effective depending on the progression of the condition and the immune system of the individual.