- MS stem cell treatment
- Positive initial results
- Further trials planned
It is estimated that over 130,000 individuals in the United Kingdom have MS, with nearly 7,000 diagnosed annually.
The overwhelming majority of individuals with MS experience relapsing-remitting episodes characterized by sporadic exacerbations or the emergence of novel symptoms persisting for years.
However, about two-thirds of these individuals eventually progress to secondary progressive MS, marked by a gradual worsening of symptoms leading to vision impairment, muscle paralysis, and wheelchair dependency.
With the discovery of a safe treatment, the debilitating disease can be halted, shielding the brain from further harm.
Stem Cell Intervention
Stem cells were injected directly into the brains of fifteen individuals with secondary MS from two institutions in Italy.
None experienced worsened disabilities or exacerbation of symptoms a year after the injection, despite most requiring a wheelchair.
Secondary progressive MS can lead to cognitive difficulties, but tests showed no worsening of impairments in the year following the injection.
Challenges and Optimism
Co-leading the study was Professor Stefano Pluchino of the University of Cambridge, who stated, “New treatments for secondary progressive MS are an absolute necessity, and I am extremely enthusiastic (albeit cautious) about our results, representing an initial stride towards cell therapy development for MS.”
A co-author from the University of Cambridge, Dr. Luca Peruzzotti-Jametti, said, “This small study determined whether this treatment is safe.”
Individuals with secondary progressive MS gradually lose autonomy as the only effective medication providing symptomatic relief is not universally accessible.
“Encouraging the development of a treatment that halts the progression of the condition would be critical, so we will next conduct trials on a great number of additional individuals, hopefully patients in the United Kingdom.”
MS involves an immune system attack on the myelin sheath, a protective membrane around nerves transmitting signals from the brain.
Damage disrupts signals to muscles, impacting locomotion, but stem cells can prevent immune cells from causing this injury.
The study used stem cells donated by a bereaved family of a pregnant child, administered via anesthetic-induced brain surgery.
Safety and Considerations
Researchers are optimistic about reprogramming patient epidermis cells into brain stem cells to overcome these issues.
Individuals with higher stem cell doses exhibited elevated spinal fluid fatty acid concentrations, indicating improved cognitive processes.
Additional evidence is needed to confirm stem cells effectively prevent MS progression, especially in severely disabled individuals.
Published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, the research was deemed “extremely exciting” by Caitlin Astbury of the MS Society.
Clinical lecturer in neurology at the University of Southampton, Dr. Aravinthan Varatharaj, stated, “Although this study demonstrated that patients did not experience substantial disease progression following treatment, this could have been due to other factors, and it was not a controlled trial.”