Stem cell treatments for the notoriously difficult to treat multiple sclerosis (MS) are frequently in the news, but as with all new medical treatments, the effectiveness and real potential of these trials is not always immediately evident. Here’s what you really need to know.
There’s more than one type of MS.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS involves an immune-mediated process in which the body’s immune system attacks the central nervous system, causing inflammation that damages myelin, the substance that insulates nerve fibers. But there are four types of MS:
- Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS)
- Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS)
- Primary progressive MS (PPMS)
- Secondary progressive MS (SPMS)
RRMS is the most common, but all forms typically require a disease-modifying therapy.
Various stem cell treatments are in the advanced trial phase.
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which can be obtained in cord tissue or through Placental Tissue 2.0TM, have been involved in numerous promising trials. One such trial is funded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, focusing on the growth factors and immune-suppressing properties of MSCs. Another study, funded by BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics, utilizes similar methods and is also in the advanced trial phase.
The other strategy being applied is to utilize hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), which are commonly derived from cord blood. In these cases, the patient’s immune system is dismantled through chemotherapy, before the immune system is re-started with their own HSCs – similar to how these same cells are used to treat cancers like leukemias.
How much progress has really been made?
Stem cell treatments for MS have made substantial progress. Although not yet recommended for all forms of MS due to the rigors of chemotherapy, HSC transplant has proven to be particularly useful.
In fact, the American Society for Blood and Bone Marrow Transplantation (ASBMT) has recommended that HSC transplant become standard-of-care for treatment-refractory relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.
In some of these cases, not only is the progression of MS halted, but the patients’ bodies begin to repair the damage done by the condition, as measured by the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS), which assesses impairment across a range of functions including muscle control, problems with speech and swallowing, and issues with thinking and memory. Although the extent may vary, some patients have gone from being wheelchair-bound to living life much like they had before MS began.
Further progress with HSC transplantation or in MSC clinical trials could expand these treatment options further, giving doctors a more powerful tool in their efforts to treat MS and give patients struggling with the condition hope for a powerful breakthrough.