Patients being treated for multiple sclerosis (MS) are typically offered a few disease-modifying treatments (DMTs) in hopes of slowing down the progress of the disease. DMTs work for some patients, but not for all. And even in patients that do experience some measure of success, MS will ultimately progress one way or the other. Doctors have been looking for alternatives. One such alternative lies in stem cells.
Stem cells are the building blocks of human tissue. The body contains multiple kinds of stem cells, some of which might be helpful in slowing down MS. At least that’s the theory of one particular researcher who has been working on the problem for more than two decades.
Dr. Richard Burt, chief of immunotherapy and autoimmune disease at the Northwest Feinberg School of Medicine, thinks he may be on to a way to eventually treat MS patients using their own stem cells. Published results from his most recent clinical trial show very good promise.
Comparing Stem Cells with DMTs
Health Line reports that Dr. Burt worked with 103 study participants, some of whom received traditional DMT therapies. Others were offered nonmyeloablative hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) treatment. Data shows that only three of the patients receiving the HSCT treatment continued to demonstrate disease progression as compared to 34 patients receiving the DMT treatment.
Being such a small-scale study, Burt’s research is considered inconclusive. However, he has since embarked on a phase 3 trial and is currently in the process of recruiting patients to participate in that study. If it proves as successful as its predecessor, the trial could open the door to a marketable MS treatment within the next few years.
A Dangerous Treatment
Dr. Burt stresses that his treatment is a dangerous one. Patients must be hospitalized for months at a time and monitored for complications. What makes it so dangerous? The fact that the chemotherapy utilized in the treatment renders the immune system largely ineffective. That means patients are subject to all sorts of infections.
It’s important to note here that MS is an autoimmune disease. It is a disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack the nervous system. As such, the goal of Dr. Burt’s treatment is to ‘convince’ the immune system to stop doing what it’s doing.
The Power and Potential of Stem Cells
Health Line didn’t explain exactly how stem cells help in the scope of Dr. Burt’s treatment, but commonsense seems to indicate that the chemotherapy portion slows down the immune system while the stem cells are used to rebuild a new immune system that won’t continue its attack.
At any rate, the fact that the procedure works for some patients shows the power and potential of stem cells. There are a lot of people watching Burt and his research in hopes of eventually being able to stop MS in its tracks.
Meanwhile, autologous stem cells are being used by doctors to treat a range of orthopedic issues along with hair loss and the effects of aging in the skin. Many of those doctors have been trained by the Advanced Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) in Utah.
ARMI officials explain that doctors have been utilizing PRP and stem cell therapies to promote wound healing and bone repair since the 1990s. Likewise, the bone marrow therapy utilized to treat leukemia patients is, in effect, a stem cell transplant.
There’s still a lot about stem cells we don’t know, but what we do know is promising. Perhaps stem cells will someday mean the end of MS and other debilitating diseases.