Stem cells are the building blocks of our bodies, able to develop into many different cell types such as blood, brain or muscle cells.
There is a lot of interest in the use of stem cells to treat MS. The stem cells used to treat MS patients in this study are those that give rise to other blood cells, and are called hematopoietic.
Not all MS patients should have hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) due to the risks. Chemotherapy and sometimes radiotherapy are needed to suppress the immune system before transplanting such cells, and they can lead to severe infection.
A less invasive procedure than radiotherapy, called nonmyeloablative HSCT, has been proposed to treat MS. In this case, the drug used for immunosuppression leads to minimal risk of infection.
A team at Northwestern University in Illinois studied 132 patients with relapsing-remitting MS and 28 with secondary progressive MS. They were treated with nonmyeloablative autologous HSCT (which uses the patient’s own cells) between July 2003 and February 2014.
There were no treatment-related deaths and, among patients with relapsing-remitting MS, nonmyeloablative HSCT was associated with improvement in neurological disability and other clinical outcomes.
The findings from this uncontrolled study require confirmation in randomized trials.