This week has seen a spate of stories about the impact of haemopoietic stem cell (HPSC) transplant treatment for aggressive MS in people whose MS has not been well controlled by the currently available disease-modifying drugs. The study reports relapse rates significantly lowered by HPSC treatment in the transplant treated group compared with those who continued treatment on disease-modifying drugs (DMDs).
The study is an international collaboration between researchers from Northwestern University Chicago, University of São Paulo, Brazil, Uppsala University Sweden, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Texas University Health Science Centre, Houston.
110 patients were randomly assigned to either the stem cell treatment group or to continue their disease-modifying drugs. Those in the stem cell treatment group were virtually relapse-free at the end of one year while several relapses were recorded in the group remaining on disease-modifying drugs indicating that over a relatively short-term follow-up stem cell transplantation was significantly better than DMDs in this group of patients. However, it will also be important to see how all patients’ progress over the next few years. Continued benefit in the stem cell transplant group will represent a highly significant gain in disease control and improved long-term outcome.
In this study stem cell transplants were carried out after patients had been treated with drugs that obliterated their immune system with the idea that cells already in the body that are responsible for MS damage will be replaced by cells are not active in the damage process. The treatment is rigorous and carries some risks but as each study of this type is reported researchers learn more about both the benefits and the risks and how to manage them.
We look forward to further reports on similar studies currently being carried out in several countries internationally with the anticipation that for some people with MS this technique offers real hope for the future.