Source: Harvard Medical School / By: Robert H. Shmerling, M.D.

(BOSTON, Mass.) — Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the brain and spinal cord that often leads to disability and early death. It is thought to develop because the immune system mistakenly attacks the nervous system. Treatments to suppress the immune system can help. But there’s no known way to prevent MS, and no cure. Current treatments may work poorly, cause troublesome side effects or both.

So it’s worth taking note of news about a treatment for MS that may be more effective than what is available now. A new study compared stem-cell transplants with an older drug, mitoxantrone. All 21 people in the study had severe MS. It was getting worse despite standard treatments to suppress the immune system. Researchers have just published the study results in the journal Neurology.

Nine people had stem cells removed from their bone marrow. Then they had immune-suppressing treatments, and the stem cells were injected again through a vein. The rest of those in the study received similar immune-suppressing drugs, followed by mitoxantrone. People were monitored by a neurologist and by MRI scans over four years. People treated with their own stem cells:

  • Were just as likely to become more disabled as those receiving mitoxantrone.
  • Had far fewer new areas of brain injury related to MS noted on brain scans.
  • Had no new MS-related inflammation in the brain. About 56% of the mitoxantrone-treated patients had new areas of inflammation, as shown on MRI. None of the stem-cell group had these new areas.
  • Had no permanent side effects related to treatment.

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The Study