Neural stem cell therapy is a type of treatment that has potential benefits for slowing down or even reversing the effects of MS. Neural stem cells are cells that can turn into many different types of nerve cell. The idea behind the therapy is that if these cells are infused into a person with MS, they can travel to areas of the brain and spinal cord, where they may help protect and repair damaged neurons.
Professor Gianvito Martino, from the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italy, has been researching this area for many years, most recently leading an early-stage (phase 1) clinical trial of neural stem cell therapy. The results of this trial – which involved 12 people with progressive MS – showed that the treatment is safe, and can be tolerated by people with MS. In addition, a reduction in the amount of brain atrophy (shrinkage) was seen in some people, particularly in those who received the largest number of neural stem cells.
Although these results are very promising, they need to be confirmed in a larger group of patients before this type of therapy could be used in routine clinical practice. The next step will be to develop new clinical trials that involve broader groups of patients. These trials will need to prove that the treatment can stop the progression of the disease as well as showing the ability of neural stem cells to regenerate damaged areas of the nervous system.
This innovative research was supported by our member organisation, the Italian MS Society. The Chairman of the Italian MS Foundation (FISM), Professor Mario Alberto Battaglia states:
“For over twenty years we have promoted and supported stem cell research, investing in basic research and human trials. Scientific research is a lengthy process, but it’s the only way to achieve results that can tangibly change people’s lives. This is the research we want and the research we fund. Over the past twenty years, a lot has changed in multiple sclerosis, and a lot is being done for the progressive forms. People with the most serious forms [of MS] have innovative answers to help them deal with symptoms and have a better quality of life, also thanks to rehabilitation. We will continue to develop this stem cell research as well as other innovative projects to continue towards a world without multiple sclerosis.”
Read the full paper in the journal Nature Medicine: Neural stem cell transplantation in patients with progressive multiple sclerosis: An open label, phase I study
Read more about stem cell therapy for MS.