A new small-scale study has suggested a potential treatment to stop the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS).
The research, published in the Lancet journal, found that aggressive chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant could stop the disease. However, there could be risks for patients and further studies will need to be conducted before the approach can be made available.
Involving 24 patients between the ages of 18 and 50 from three hospitals across Canada, the trial found that 23 of the participants experienced significant reductions in the disease's progression following this new combination of treatments. However, the remaining person died after the treatment as a result of the chemotherapy.
According to the report, of the 23 who survived, there were no relapses or new detectable disease activity 13 years after they had received the treatment.
Around 100,000 people in the UK have MS, which is an incurable neurological disease that affects the immune system, causing it to attack nerves in the brain and spinal cord.
There is already a treatment in use, which suppresses the immune system with chemotherapy and then uses healthy, MS-free stem cells to boost it again. However, the new study destroyed the immune system completely, instead of just impairing it.
As with the current method, stem cells from the patient are injected back into the bloodstream as they don't have any of the flaws that trigger MS.
All of the trial's participants were deemed to have a "poor prognosis" and had already had standard immunosuppressive therapy, which had not helped them to manage their condition.
Lead author Dr Mark Freedman explained the study had its limitations, particularly its small nature of the study, and said that further clinical trials would be needed to confirm the results.
He explained that the new approach should be weighed against the risks of the current treatments available and only offered to patients in specialist centres where there are doctors and nurses experienced both in multiple sclerosis treatment and stem cell therapy, or as part of a clinical trial.
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