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Posted: January 30, 2015 at 12:44 pm

TORONTO - Two Canadian research centres are gearing up for a clinical trial to determine if a type of stem cell can help alleviate the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Researchers at the Ottawa Hospital and Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre will each recruit 20 MS patients for the trial that will test whether mesenchymal stem cells can reduce inflammation and even help repair damage already caused by the disease.

MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease that creates inflammation in the central nervous system, resulting in injury to myelin, the protective sheath that covers nerves. This damage can create a host of symptoms, leading to varying degrees of physical disability and cognitive impairment.

Mesenchymal stem cells, which are found in bone marrow, fat, skin tissue and umbilical cord blood, have the ability to modify the immune system and reduce inflammation, said neurologist Dr. Mark Freedman of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, who is leading the clinical trial.

Freedman said researchers want to determine if these stem cells can demonstrate anti-inflammatory properties in patients with MS.

"But that's not why we're doing it," he said of the study, called MESCAMS ("MEsenchymal Stem cell therapy for CAnadian MS patients"). "We have lots of drugs that can control inflammation in multiple sclerosis that's what all the new medicines do."

"The ultimate hope is that we will be able to exploit some of their other very important biological properties, which is to promote repair."

The two research centres are ready to begin enrolling patients for the trial, which has specific acceptance criteria. While most of those accepted will likely have the relapsing-remitting form of the disease, Freedman said some people with more severe primary- or secondary-progressive MS may also be eligible if they fit the criteria.

The study protocol can be accessed at http://www.clinicaltrials.gov/show/NCT02239393. It will later be posted on the website of the MS Society of Canada, which along with the Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation has provided a $4.2-million grant for the study.

To conduct the trial, half the patients will be randomly assigned to receive their own mesenchymal stem cells within weeks of them being extracted from the bone marrow and grown in the lab; the remainder of the participants will instead be infused with a mock stem-cell solution, and won't receive their actual stem cells for about six months. The two groups will then be compared.

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