Stem Cell Treatment Stops MS for Some Patients

Stem Cell Treatment Stops MS for Some Patients

Stem Cell Transplants Show Promise for Multiple Sclerosis Patients

HealthDay Reporter By Amy Norton HealthDay Reporter

A new study has provided more evidence that stem cell transplants can have a significant impact on patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). According to the research, stem cell transplants have the potential to send the disease into remission for years and even reverse disability.

The study, which involved 174 MS patients, found that two-thirds of the participants had no evidence of “disease activity” over a 10-year period after undergoing stem cell transplants. This meant they experienced no symptom relapses, no worsening disability, and no signs of new brain damage. Surprisingly, more than half of the patients who already had disabilities before the procedure saw improvements afterward.

Published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, these findings further support the effectiveness and safety of stem cell transplantation as a treatment option for certain individuals with MS. Dr. Joachim Burman, a neurologist at Uppsala University Hospital in Sweden and co-author of the study, emphasized that this treatment works and can be performed safely.

However, it’s important to note that stem cell transplants may not be suitable for everyone. Younger patients generally have better outcomes from a safety standpoint, and those with highly active MS, including flare-ups despite medication, are most likely to benefit.

Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disorder caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking nerve fibers in the spinal cord and brain. This leads to various symptoms such as vision problems, muscle weakness, numbness, and difficulties with balance and coordination. The majority of individuals initially experience the relapsing-remitting form of MS, where symptoms come and go. However, most eventually transition to a progressive form of the disease, leading to worsening disability over time.

So why are stem cell transplants used to treat MS? The basic idea is to “reboot” the faulty immune system. The procedure involves extracting stem cells from the patient’s own blood, using powerful chemotherapy drugs to suppress the existing immune system, and then reintroducing the stored stem cells into the patient. Over time, the immune system rebuilds itself.

Bruce Bebo, executive vice president of research programs for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, commented that these results are in line with previous studies investigating MS patients who have undergone stem cell transplants. Bebo stated that the evidence supporting this treatment option has reached a tipping point.

In 2020, a National MS Society advisory committee published recommendations regarding the ideal candidates for stem cell transplants. Eligible individuals should be younger than 50, have had relapsing-remitting MS for fewer than 10 years, and have experienced symptom flares or developed new brain lesions despite being on optimal MS medications. The age recommendation primarily considers safety factors.

However, it’s essential to recognize that a stem cell transplant is a major procedure. Patients require a hospital stay and initially face increased vulnerability to infections. The highest risk of infection occurs in the first few days after the procedure, but most patients can be safely discharged after around 10 days. They can typically return to work three months post-transplant.

The study involved 174 patients with a median age of 31 who underwent the transplant at one of seven Swedish transplant centers between 2004 and 2014. At the five-year mark, 73% showed no signs of disease activity, which decreased slightly to 65% after a decade. Among the 149 participants with disabilities before the procedure, 54% experienced improvements afterward. However, the reasons behind this improvement remain unknown, and further research is necessary.

If individuals are considering whether a stem cell transplant is the right choice for them, the first step is to discuss the matter with their doctor. However, it’s important to note that this procedure should only be conducted at medical centers with experience in stem cell transplantation and with proper insurance coverage. Bebo emphasized that self-described “stem cell clinics” that promote their services for various medical conditions are not appropriate for this type of treatment.

It’s also worth mentioning that stem cell transplants differ from other stem cell therapies under investigation for MS, which are still in the experimental stages.

Ultimately, this study adds to the growing body of evidence supporting stem cell transplants as a highly effective treatment option for some individuals with MS. It provides newfound hope for those living with the disease by showcasing how it can send MS into remission and even reverse disability. As researchers continue to discover more about stem cell transplants, more lives may be positively impacted by this innovative therapy.

Question: What kind of disease is multiple sclerosis?

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More Information

For more information on stem cell transplantation and its application in MS treatment, visit the National MS Society website.


  • Joachim Burman, MD, PhD, consultant neurologist, Uppsala University Hospital, Uppsala, Sweden
  • Bruce Bebo, PhD, executive vice president, research programs, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, New York City
  • Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, Sept. 25, 2023, online