What Are the Possible Benefits of Stem Cell Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis?

Amy Hunter

Stem cell therapy for multiple sclerosis appears to show promise in two different forms of treatment. The first involves extracting the patient's stem cells before they undergo chemotherapy, and then re-injecting them. The second treatment involves extracting the cells and re-injecting them without chemotherapy. Both of these treatments show promise for treating individuals with early stage MS.

Stem cells and the types of cells they could become.
Stem cells and the types of cells they could become.

The least invasive method of stem cell therapy for multiple sclerosis involves extracting bone marrow from the patient, and filtering out the fat and bone. This leaves the stem cells behind, which are then re-injected into the individual. This is a one-day, outpatient procedure. Participants in studies have not reported any ill effects of the treatment, and researchers believe that there was an improvement in their symptoms. It appears that the treatment helped the nerve pathways transport nerve pulses more effectively. Researchers believe this treatment works because the stem cells create a sort of patch over the damaged areas of spinal cord and brain.

MS symptoms include loss of coordination, slurred speech, muscle spasms, and tremors.
MS symptoms include loss of coordination, slurred speech, muscle spasms, and tremors.

A more aggressive form of stem cell therapy for multiple sclerosis involves transplanting stem cells after chemotherapy. The patient has his/her own immune stem cells extracted before the chemotherapy. They then undergo chemotherapy to destroy their immune system. Next, the immune stem cells are re-injected into the patient's body. It is believed that this process re-sets the immune system.

A person with multiple sclerosis may experience tremors in the hands and feet that make movement and grip difficult.
A person with multiple sclerosis may experience tremors in the hands and feet that make movement and grip difficult.

This type of stem cell transplant is known as autologous non-myeloablative haematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Patients who underwent this procedure noticed an improvement in walking, vision, strength, and other symptoms of MS for 24 months after the treatment. Once improvements leveled off, the patients' symptoms remained stable.

Stem cell therapy offers the most potential for MS patients who are in the early stages of the disease, known as relapsing-remitting MS. In relapsing-remitting MS the patient recovers, either partially or completely, between flareups of the disease. Ten to 15 years after diagnosis of MS, the disease advances to secondary-progressive MS. During this stage of the disease, the symptoms become progressively worse, creating neurological damage that does not appear to be reversible.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the spinal cord and brain. Researchers are not sure what causes MS, but it is believed that genetics, the environment, a virus, or a combination of these factors play a role. The disease is more common in women than men, and the average age of diagnosis is between 20 and 40. Symptoms include loss of coordination, slurred speech, muscle spasms, and tremors.

Multiple sclerosis is a disorder that arises when an individual's immune system attacks the myelin sheaths surrounding axons in the central nervous system.
Multiple sclerosis is a disorder that arises when an individual's immune system attacks the myelin sheaths surrounding axons in the central nervous system.

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