19 April 2002
A small study at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle in the US suggests people with severe cases of multiple sclerosis could be helped by stem cell transplants.
The treatment involves removing stem cells from the blood, killing the cells that are working against the body's immune system and then returning the healthy cells back to the body.
In the study, 26 people with severe MS were monitored for an average of 14 months following the treatment.
After the stem cell transplant, 20 patients were stable, with no change in their level of disability. Six showed a small amount of improvement in some aspects of their condition - around half a point on the EDSS scale. But some patients suffered complications after the procedure.
However, one year after the transplant, only three patients had new brain lesions and just two had needed to take drugs to relieve their MS.
Further research is planned to confirm the treatment's effectiveness and to monitor its long-term effects.
The researchers' findings were presented to the American Academy of Neurology's 54th Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado.
Dr George Kraft who led the research, said:
"This is good news. These patients had all been rapidly deteriorating over the past year, so to get them to a point where they are stabilised is great progress. The hope is that these stem cells will eventually reconstitute into healthy immune system cells and the disease process can be stopped."
Christine Jones, chief executive of the MS Trust welcomed the research.
"For people with very aggressive disease there are currently few effective therapies available we therefore welcome the prospect of any new treatment which may slow the progression of disability and reduce the amount of scarring or lesions in the brain.
"The results presented in Denver do seem to offer real hope on the horizon and we look forward to further larger scale trials."