Friday, 6 March 2020 | Nina Klein

Multiple Sclerosis: How Stem Cells Could Help

There are 2.3 million people around the world who are suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. In the US alone, over a million people over the age of 18 are afflicted with this disease.

Battling this disease has never been easy for patients and their families who often have to put their lives and plans on hold.

Currently, there is no known cure for Multiple Sclerosis but stem cell-based therapies have given patients and their loved ones hope in dealing with this condition.

What is the Best Treatment for MS?

Over time, doctors and scientists have been figuring out ways not just to address the symptoms of multiple sclerosis but also to eradicate the disease completely. There are now medications that can increase the walking speed of patients, while some work to relax muscles. Other medicines are used to control the pain felt during sudden flare ups or relapses. They can be administered in a number of ways, including:

  • Oral treatments. Prescription medication such as Fingolimod, Dimethyl Fumarate, Teriflunomide, and Siponimod all aim to reduce the relapse rate. Siponimod (Mayzent) also helps slow down the progression of MS but can cause side effects such as liver problems.
  • Infusion treatments. These are medications that are given intravenously to have a faster effect on the body. Ocrelizumab and Alemtuzumab reduce relapse rates while Natalizumab is often given to people with severe MS to block harmful cells from entering the bloodstream or brain.
  • Injectable medications. Beta Interferons and Glatiramer Acetate are injected in small doses to reduce the amount and severity of relapses.
  • Physical therapy. Exercises like stretching, with the aid of physical and occupational therapists, can do wonders for a patient’s mobility.

Aside from these traditional treatments, many of which only address the symptoms of MS, there are also emerging treatments. Stem cell-based therapies have shown promising results and studies have come a long way since their discovery to treat various diseases on a cellular level.

Stem Cells and MS

Hematopoietic stem cells, which are found in the bone marrow, have been studied for the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis since 1997. To understand how stem cells are helping treat MS, it is important to understand how this disease works.

To make it simple, Multiple Sclerosis happens when the immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath of nerve cells. The myelin sheath is a protective layer around the nerves that allow the brain to send commands to different parts of the body. So if the myelin sheath is damaged, a person’s impulses slow down.

Stem cell-based therapies address the problem in two layers - first, to repair the damaged nerves and second, to help protect the myelin sheath.

Stem Cell Research for Multiple Sclerosis

Stem cell clinical trials for Multiple Sclerosis have been conducted with much success. The results of the studies from Phase I and II have shown an immediate reduction in inflammation, improvements in patients’ eyesight and fewer incidents of relapse.

A new study led by the University of California used nanotechnology treatment, which reversed MS symptoms in mice. Another interesting study is from the University of Cambridge which used skin cells and reprogrammed them into neural stem cells. This reduced inflammation and repaired the damage to the nervous system in mice.

Can Multiple Sclerosis be Treated With Stem Cells?

A common question most patients and their families have is: Does stem cell therapy work for primary progressive MS? While stem cell-based treatments can’t completely cure the disease, it can aid in its treatment.

Patients suffering from progressive MS can take heart that various research has proven that stem cells can be used to lessen the impact of the disease.

How do Stem Cell Transplants Work for MS?

A pioneering study called the MS Stem Cell Transplant Trial discovered that a hematopoietic stem cell transplant can be more effective than other medications for patients with active relapsing-remitting MS. This begs the question, what is a stem cell transplant for MS? And how is it different from stem cell therapy?

A stem cell transplant is merely a step or procedure in the overall therapy. The act of transplanting itself is just injecting stem cells into the patient’s body, which may come from a host or from the patient themselves when they were still able to produce stem cells. (This is why cancer patients who have undergone chemotherapy or radiation need a stem cell transplant afterwards.)

For patients of MS in particular, the use of their own hematopoietic stem cells for the transplant resulted in the slowing down of the disease, more remission, less relapse, less disability and fewer MRI lesions.

Follow-up research is underway to further validate the results of the study.

Does Stem Cell Treatment for MS Work?

There is no known cure for Multiple Sclerosis but stem cell-based therapies have been shown to slow down and even reverse the progress of the disease. New studies, like the MS Stem Cell Trial, are also proving to be very promising.

The success rate for MS patients who underwent autologuos hematopoietic stem cell transplantation in the study was astounding. 52 out of 55 patients who received transplantation did not show disease progression for a year. Among the control group, who were taking medicine alone, only 21 out of 55 did not show disease progression for a year.

As the years progressed, those who received the transplant continued to report that their disease had not progressed. In fact, only 2% reported that their disease progressed during the second year, 5% in the third year, and 10% in the fourth and fifth years.

How Long Does Stem Cell Therapy for MS Take?

The whole procedure for the stem cell-based therapies for MS depends on the seriousness of the patient’s condition and their medical history. Generally, the stem cells make their way into a patient’s bone marrow and should start making new blood cells and white blood cells within around 10 to 30 days.

While some patients report feeling the effects of therapy after just one session, there are also those who could only see and feel the effects after several sessions.

How Much do Stem Cell Treatments for MS Cost?

A lot of places around the world are offering stem cell treatment for Multiple Sclerosis patients. The price of the treatment varies due to the standards and policies of every country.

The average price range per treatment in the US is USD 7,000 to USD 10,000. Therapies outside the US are reported to be anywhere from USD 20,000 to USD 100,000, depending on the country.

In the UK, the National Health Service has not formally assessed stem cell transplants but there are several centers that started offering them under very strict regulations.

If you are considering a stem cell-based therapy for your MS or for a family member, do remember that treatment plans are highly dependent on each individual’s medical history. This is why the most appropriate way to recommend a stem cell treatment plan is to first do a full diagnosis of the patient prior to advising any treatment packages.

Where is Stem Cell Treatment for MS Available?

Many countries allow stem cell-based treatments for patients with Multiple Sclerosis. Here are some of these places:

  • United States
  • Canada
  • United Kingdom
  • China
  • Russia
  • Mexico
  • Cayman Islands
  • Germany

What we have to remember is that each country has its own policies and standards. There have been reports of clinics offering unregulated stem cell treatments in some parts of the US, Canada, and Mexico. This is why it’s important to study the country and clinic where you plan to get your treatment.

Countries in Europe like Germany are known for their very strict standards but they also guarantee the quality of treatment. This is evident in the way they treat their patients and the reputation they hold in the industry.

A well-known stem cell institute, like ANOVA IRM, creates personalized treatment programs that are specific to each patient. For patients with Multiple Sclerosis, ANOVA IRM will not just be their treatment provider, but a partner in their journey to recovery. If you have any inquiries about our treatments and procedures, feel free to contact us.

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