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Stem cell treatment helps MS patients

Stem cell treatment helps MS patients
19th January 2016

Research at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield has shown that stem cell therapy can help people with MS.

The treatment, which is usually used to help battle cancer, involves transplanting bone marrow using the patient's own stem cells.  

Exclusive access to the trial was given to the BBC's Panorama programme. Around 20 patients with MS have had the procedure, with some paralysed people even being able to walk again as a result. 

Professor Basil Sharrack, of Sheffield's Royal Hallamshire Hospital, told the BBC that being able to potentially reverse disability was a "major achievement".

It is estimated that around 100,000 people in the UK have MS and most will be diagnosed in their 20s or 30s. The neurological condition is incurable and sees the immune system malfunction and attack the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. This causes damage to the nerve fibres and can result in scarring or sclerosis, which then disturbs the nerve signals and can lead to permanent neurodegeneration.

The clinical trial is now being run in other countries, including the US and Sweden.

Known as autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT), the treatment first destroys the misfiring immune system and then rebuilds it using stem cells from the blood.

Professor John Snowden, consultant haematologist at Royal Hallamshire Hospital, said it is essentially being "reset and rebooted" to before MS took over.

Dr Emma Gray, head of clinical trials at the UK's MS Society, said: "Ongoing research suggests stem cell treatments such as HSCT could offer hope, and it's clear that, in the cases highlighted by Panorama, they've had a life-changing impact.

"However, trials have found that, while HSCT may be able to stabilise or improve disability in some people with MS, it may not be effective for all types of the condition."

Dr Gray added that people need to be aware that aggressive treatment comes with significant risk and called for further research into HSCT so there could be greater understanding of its safety and long-term effectiveness.

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