Doctors begin major stem cell trial for MS patients

Bone marrow stem cells Bone marrow stem cells may be able to protect and repair

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A major clinical trial will investigate whether stem cells can be safely used to treat multiple sclerosis (MS).

It is hoped eventually to slow, stop or even reverse the damage MS causes to the brain and spinal cord.

The trial, involving up to 150 patients across Europe, is due to start later this year.

Dr Paolo Muraro from Imperial College London said: "There is very strong pre-clinical evidence that stem cells might be an effective treatment."

Researchers will collect stem cells from the bone marrow of patients, grow them in the laboratory and then re-inject them into their blood.

The stem cells will make their way to the brain where it is hoped that they will repair the damage caused by MS.

Start Quote

These experiments have confirmed that these stem cells hold that potential - but these need to be confirmed in large scale clinical trials”

End Quote Dr Doug Brown MS Society

The research has been part-funded by the UK's MS Society, which is concerned about the availability of unproven stem cell treatments.

In recent years many people living with MS have been attracted to overseas stem cell clinics which claim to cure long-term conditions in exchange for large amounts of money.

But there is no proven stem cell therapy available for MS anywhere in the world.

The MS Society hopes these new trials will eventually lead to a proven treatment - and a reduction in the draw of overseas treatments.

Common condition

MS is the most common neurological condition to affect young people in the UK.

Three million people are thought to be affected worldwide and up to 100,000 in the UK.

The condition is caused by the body's own immune system attacking and damaging a substance called myelin in the brain and nerve cells.

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I am delighted that we have at last progressed stem cell research to this stage, which will bring much-needed hope to so many people affected by this devastating condition”

End Quote Sir Richard Sykes Chair, UK Stem Cell Foundation

The myelin damage disrupts messages from the brain to the body which leads to a number of symptoms such as sight loss, bladder and bowel problems, muscle stiffness and eventually physical disability.

Drugs are available to alleviate the symptoms - but they do not prevent the progression of the condition.

Experiments in test tubes and laboratory animals suggest stem cells extracted from bone marrow may be able to offer a more effective treatment.

Their role in the bone marrow is to protect the cells that make blood. But they also seem to protect myelin from attack by the immune system.

There is also some evidence that these cells might also be able to repair damaged tissue.

Hold potential

Dr Doug Brown, of the MS Society, said: "These experiments have confirmed that these stem cells hold that potential - but these need to be confirmed in large scale clinical trials."

There is some way to go, however, before laboratory promise can be translated into a treatment that can be offered to patients.

The international team will begin so-called phase two clinical trials in six months' time designed to determine whether the treatment is safe and effective.

It will take five years to carry out and assess the results of the trials after which large phase three trials may be required.

But Dr Muraro believes that the stem cell approach has real potential.

He said: "The great hope is the fact that we are exploiting a biological system that has evolved over millions of years and harnessing it for treatment that takes advantage of the stem cells' flexibility."

Sir Richard Sykes, chair of the UK Stem Cell Foundation, said Dr Muraro's research was the first of its kind to take place in the UK.

"Given the high incidence of MS in the UK in comparison to other countries, I am delighted that we have at last progressed stem cell research to this stage, which will bring much-needed hope to so many people affected by this devastating condition."

Correction 29 July 2011: This story has been amended after the MS Society corrected a statement it had made suggesting stem cells from the brains of aborted foetuses had been used in research it was funding. The society said that adult neural cells were in fact being used.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    It appears to me that few of the people that have commented on this blog know little about MS and that it is one of the worst diseases known to man. Stem Cell treatment is the only treatment that will repair the myelin and give some life back to the sufferers and prevent newly diagnosed from getting worse. CCSVI has its uses but its not the answer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    For me the first-hand experiences of over 20,000 people worldwide who have privately been treated in Europe, US and Canada is enough evidence that being treated for CCSVI helps to alleviate MS symptoms. CCSVI has not benefitted everyone - which is why further research is required. Why is research being funded for something as costly as Stem Cell procedures when simple angioplasty for CCSVI isn't?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    as a person with MS I'm pleased that research is going ahead.About8 years ago Oxford Brookes Uni did this research using stem cells a most cost effective way fwd.As for religion surely to use our talent for good is what is important.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I am very pleased to see the first human trials for stem cells. I have a bad injury through a car crash in the brachial plexus area and have effectively lost the use of an arm. Stem cell work is a very bright prospect for people like me to get some feeling and use back. I wish the medics every success.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Let's hope this works. I don't feel sorry for myself and have a positive attitude to my diagnosis and disability but it will be nice to walk again or dare I say run. I used to be at the gym everyday, I've never drunk to excess nor taken street drugs nor smoked. My body is a slightly dodgily built temple! I'd cross my fingers but they don't respond to instructions so I'll say wooo hooo instead.


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