Early Study Says Stem Cells May Reverse Multiple Sclerosis Disability

Posted: January 22, 2015 at 11:47 pm

By Amy Norton HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Jan. 20, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- A therapy that uses patients' own primitive blood cells may be able to reverse some of the effects of multiple sclerosis, a preliminary study suggests.

The findings, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, had experts cautiously optimistic.

But they also stressed that the study was small -- with around 150 patients -- and the benefits were limited to people who were in the earlier courses of multiple sclerosis (MS).

"This is certainly a positive development," said Bruce Bebo, the executive vice president of research for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

There are numerous so-called "disease-modifying" drugs available to treat MS -- a disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective sheath (called myelin) around fibers in the brain and spine, according to the society. Depending on where the damage is, symptoms include muscle weakness, numbness, vision problems and difficulty with balance and coordination.

But while those drugs can slow the progression of MS, they can't reverse disability, said Dr. Richard Burt, the lead researcher on the new study and chief of immunotherapy and autoimmune diseases at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

His team tested a new approach: essentially, "rebooting" the immune system with patients' own blood-forming stem cells -- primitive cells that mature into immune-system fighters.

The researchers removed and stored stem cells from MS patients' blood, then used relatively low-dose chemotherapy drugs to -- as Burt described it -- "turn down" the patients' immune-system activity.

From there, the stem cells were infused back into patients' blood.

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Early Study Says Stem Cells May Reverse Multiple Sclerosis Disability

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