James Heilman, MD
Hard Science

Reversal of Multiple Sclerosis Via Risky Stem Cell Treatment Confirmed

The procedure is very risky.

Cecille De JesusJune 11th 2016

MS Reversal Confirmed

A clinical trial, led by Ottawa Hospital hematologist Harrold Atkins, has successfully halted the progression and reversed the effects of multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease wherein the immune system becomes abnormal and begins to attack parts of your own body, leading to disability and even death.

Jennifer Molson, who had the chemotherapy-stem cell transplant therapy back in 2002, is now MS-free: “I haven’t had any MS symptoms in 14 years. And I’m not on any MS medications.”

The “miracle” was made possible by using the same technique used in leukemia patients wherein doctors take bone marrow from a donor and transplant it into a recipient. But this time, they used the technique to entirely wipe out the patient’s immune system, thereby eradicating the problem. They then put back stem cells, which begins to grow into a new immune system in the patient.

While the procedure may sound logical, it must be stressed that it is a very aggressive and risky treatment, and the possibility of death, while undergoing treatment, is entirely possible.

Due to the risks, not all MS patients will be eligible for the treatment. Only five percent of MS patients, particularly those with an aggressive type of MS that doesn’t respond to other treatments, can be admitted for the experimental transplant. 

Out of 24 patients who tried the treatment, 16 had their MS progression halted, seven still had MS activity, and one died from effects related to the treatment.

Statistics of the trial
Statistics of the trial

Risky But Worth It?

Despite the high risks, it is absolutely understandable why people like Molson would still jump in.

Although some argue that the deaths are not directly caused by MS, at least 50% die directly from MS-related causes.

Progression of multiple sclerosis.
Progression of multiple sclerosis.

Their lives are also reduced by around 7-14 years. While that reduction in life expectancy does not seem like much compared to the general population, their quality of life significantly sinks downto a depressing point where patients see suicide as a valid option.  

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI): “Particularly, suicide is substantially increased in patients with MS, and, despite its varying incidence, mainly due to ‘cultural bias,’ it should be considered an MS-related cause of death.”

Jennifer Molson (third from the left) with Ottawa
Jennifer Molson (third from the left) with Dr. Mark Freedman, Dr Harold Atkins,and trial coordinator Marjorie Bowman. Credit: Ottawa Hospital

The procedure is undeniably dangerous, but it gives hope to patients who, at the moment, do not have a lot of options. Molson says: “I don’t take anything for granted. I got a second chance at life.” She now works as a research assistant at the Ottawa Hospital.

 

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