Blood Rev. 2003 Dec;17(4):233-40
Fassas A, Kimiskidis VK.
Hematology Department and BMT unit, George Papanicolaou Hospital, Thessaloniki, Greece
Experimental and clinical observations have indicated that high-dose immunosuppression followed by autologous stem cell transplantation (ASCT) can induce remissions in severe, refractory, autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis (MS), a T cell-mediated autoimmune disorder against CNS myelin components, causing severe chronic disability.
Control of the disease is unsatisfactory in most of the patients, especially those with rapidly evolving relapsing-remitting course and those with chronic progressive disease.
The rationale for treating autoimmune diseases with ASCT is based on the immunosuppressive and immunomodulating effects of ASCT which may shift the immunological balance towards disease quiescence, a hypothesis supported by the results of ASCT in animal models of MS and by clinical observations in MS patients transplanted for concurrent malignancies.
A number of phase I-II studies of ASCT in patients with active MS, conducted worldwide since 1995, and a comprehensive analysis of 85 patients, recently reported by the European Group for Blood and Marrow Transplantation (EBMT), have shown the feasibility of the method, a prominent anti-inflammatory effect on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) disease, and a possible clinical benefit for active and refractory cases.
The impact on MRI disease parameters appears superior with ASCT than with conventional therapies but the clinical results, in terms of stabilization of disease and prevention of disability, need to be validated in prospective, controlled trials.
The procedure is also associated with a transplant-related mortality risk, of about 5% in high-risk cases, i.e., in older patients, those with high disability scores, those receiving strong myeloablative conditioning regimens and those undergoing intensive in vivo or ex vivo T cell-depletion.
Therefore, it could be recommended for the treatment of a chronic, non-lethal, disease like MS only if it proved superior to standard therapies.
A randomized trial is now launched by the EBMT to compare ASCT to mitoxantrone, currently regarded as one of the best available treatments, in properly selected patients having high chance of response at minimal mortality risk.