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Encouraging results from stem cell trial

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Interim results from a five year stem cell study suggest the treatment could eventually be an effective way to manage relapsing remitting MS.

The Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation for Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (HALT-MS) study is following 24 people in hospitals across the USA. Participants had all experienced disabling relapses whilst on disease modifying drugs in the 18 months before the start of the study. Each person had stem cells collected from their bone marrow before receiving chemotherapy and immunosuppressive drugs to wipe out their immune system. The stem cells were then transplanted back. Participants were monitored in hospital for two months whilst their immune systems recovered.

The results from the first three years of the study are promising. All but two participants showed no signs of progression, only three had had a relapse and 19 showed no loss of function, no relapses and no new lesions on MRI scans. None resumed disease modifying drugs after treatment.

Most participants experienced the expected side effects of the powerful drugs used, including infections and gastrointestinal problems. No unexpected side effects were seen.

Amy Bowen, director of service development at the MS Trust, said,

"The interim, three year results of this small study are very promising and we look forward to publication of the full results at the end of the five year period. Stem cell therapy for MS holds significant potential but remains at the frontier of clinical research."

This type of treatment, which involves intense suppression of the immune system, is associated with significant side effects. Seeking stem cell treatment other than as part of a properly regulated clinical trial with regular monitoring and support is not recommended. We are not aware of any stem cell trials currently recruiting in the UK.

Nash RA, et al.
High-dose immunosuppressive therapy and autologous hematopoietic cell transplantation for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (HALT-MS): a 3-year interim report.
JAMA Neurology 2014 Dec 29. [Epub ahead of print]

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