Mon, 31 Mar 2003 18:49:38
Written by CBC News Online staff
Canadian doctors are reporting encouraging early results from an experiment designed to replace the immune system of multiple sclerosis patients.
Multiple sclerosis starts with a faulty immune system that attacks the protecting coating on nerves. There is no cure for the disease.
The few drugs that are available are not working for John McCleary and his MS is advancing quickly. He is gambling on a risky experiment that might stop MS in its tracks.
"The way medicine is progressing, something else can come down the road that might reverse the symptoms," said McCleary.
Ottawa neurologist Dr. Mark Freedman is behind the radical new approach. "Well, we know it's a problem with the (immune) system, so we now have the tools to replace the entire system," said Freedman.
Doctors harvested stem cells from McCleary's blood and purified the cells to remove all traces of MS. Chemotherapy wiped out his old immune system and the stem cells were transplanted back to grow a new immune system.
Before the stem cells are transplanted back, patients are defenceless against microbes. The procedure is therefore too risky to be offered to everyone with MS.
Angie White went through her stem cell transplant one year ago. She has no regrets. "If I hadn't had the transplant, the way I look at it, I would probably have ended up in a wheelchair."
It's too early to call Angie's case a success story, but Freedman is encouraged by what he sees.
"So far, there's absolutely no sign that the disease has come back in any of these patients," said Freedman.
"So the longer it goes that they don't show anything, the better the chances are that this is representative of a long standing remission. And that's what our goal is, long standing remission."
Freedman is presenting his results this week at the American Academy
of Neurology's annual meeting in Hawaii.
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