An international team of scientists has shown that a stem cell therapy for multiple sclerosis (MS) could prevent further damage to the brain.
The early-stage clinical trial was the result of a collaboration between researchers at University of Colorado Anschutz Campus, the University of Cambridge and the University of Milano-Bicocca.
“We don’t know yet whether this is the beginning of a fantastic journey or not, but the results are very strong and very consistent,” said Professor Stefano Pluchino at the University of Cambridge. “We recognise that our study has limitations – it was only a small study and there may have been confounding effects from the immunosuppressant drugs, for example – but the fact that our treatment was safe and that its effects lasted over the 12 months of the trial means that we can proceed to the next stage of clinical trials.”
The researchers injected between 5m and 24m neural stem cells directly into the brains of 15 patients with secondary progressive MS. The stem cells are thought to reduce the inflammation that drives the disease.
In MS, the body’s own immune system attacks and damages myelin, the protective sheath around nerve fibres, causing disruption to messages sent around the brain and spinal cord.
While MS treatments exist that can reduce the severity and frequency of relapses, two-thirds of patients still transition into a debilitating secondary progressive phase of disease within 25-30 years of diagnosis.
A new way of treating MS
The therapy was well tolerated and during the 12-month follow-up period none of the patients showed any increase in disability or a worsening of symptoms, though all the patients did already have a high level of disability.
The researchers assessed a subgroup of patients for changes in the volume of brain tissue and found that the larger the dose of injected stem cells, the smaller the reduction in brain volume over time.
Caitlin Astbury, Research Communications Manager, The MS Society, commented: “This is a really exciting study which builds on previous research funded by us. This was a very small, early-stage study and we need further clinical trials to find out if this treatment has a beneficial effect on the condition. But this is an encouraging step towards a new way of treating some people with MS.”
Diana Spencer, Senior Digital Content Editor, DDW