What a story! For the very first time, disability has been reversed in patients in the early stages of multiple sclerosis. Let's just take a moment to let that soak in. Disability has not only been halted, it has actually been reversed!
Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system. In patients with MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks myelin, the protective sheath that surrounds nerves and speeds the transmission of impulses along the nerve cells. This causes a breakdown in communication between the central nervous system and the rest of the body, causing a wide variety of symptoms, including visual disturbances, vertigo, coordination problems, and paralysis.
The history-making research was conducted at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and involved the use of the patients' own stem cells. The cells were removed from bone marrow, after which all existing immune cells were destroyed with chemotherapy. When re-introduced to the immune system, the cells no longer attack myelin as alien cells.
To date, most research has been looking toward halting the progression of MS rather than reversing it. The really good news here is that patients' own stem cells can be utilized, eliminating ethical concerns about the use of embryonic stem cells in medical research.
The patient group was made up of 12 women and 11 men on the early stages of relapsing-remitting MS. After three years, 17 patients improved by at least one point on the standard disability scale. None of the patients scores were lower. More trials are now underway to confirm these findings. Researchers also caution that in order for this procedure to work, it must be done before permanent nerve-cell damage has taken place.
There is a certain sense of urgency about these findings. While a large percentage of MS patients are originally diagnosed with relapsing/remitting MS, by 25 years, most have converted to a progressive phase -- a point when this procedure will be ineffective.
What does this mean for those of us living with relapsing/remitting MS right now? At the very least, it represents hope for the future -- our own and for those coming up behind us.
The results of this particular study are encouraging, but it is unclear how much time it will take to confirm the results. Possibly more time than some of us have to spare. Nevertheless, we await the outcome of the trials and anticipate a better future for MS patients.
I, for one, am ecstatic.
Published On: February 02, 2009