Recent media reports have featured news about a clinical trial involving harvesting a person’s own stem cells to treat aggressive multiple sclerosis.
• This treatment, called autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT), attempts to “reboot” the immune system, which is believed to launch attacks on the brain and spinal cord in people with MS.
• HSCT is under investigation in clinical trials in Canada, the United States, Europe and elsewhere. Clinical trials are needed to fully understand the benefits and risks of HSCT in MS, and who might benefit most from this approach, since it does not seem to be effective in all types of MS.
• In HSCT, stem cells from a person’s own bone marrow or blood are stored, and the rest of the individual’s immune cells are depleted usually by chemotherapy. Then the stored stem cells are reintroduced and over time they produce new cells that repopulate the body with immune cells.
• There is exciting progress being made through innovative research related to the potential of many types of stem cells both for slowing MS disease activity and for repairing damage to the nervous system.
• At present, there are no approved stem cell therapies for MS. Stem cell therapy is in the experimental stage, and it’s important for people to have the best available information to understand this exciting area of research and make decisions related to this complex issue.
• In November 2015, the International Conference on Cell-Based Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis was convened by the National MS Society and the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis, bringing leading researchers and clinicians together to confer on clinical trials needed to provide answers about which types of cells, which route of delivery, and which types and stages of disease, would be the most promising approach for treating MS. A summary and consensus on next steps will be published by the conference organizers, with recommendations to help speed the development of new cell-based treatment solutions.
• With the urgent need for more effective treatments for MS, particularly for those with more progressive forms of the disease, we believe that the potential of all types of cell therapies must be explored. The Society is currently supporting 12 research projects exploring various types of stem cells, including cells derived from bone marrow, fat and skin, and has supported 68 stem cell studies over the past 10 years.