Can MS really be treated with stem cell therapy? Know more about this supposed “miracle” treatment option.
Earlier in 2015, the Telegraph triumphantly reported a “miraculous” treatment option for those suffering from multiple sclerosis. According to the report, the pioneering stem cell therapy treatment option works so well that it is allowing MS sufferers to “walk, run, and even dance again”! It also reported instances in which MS patients who had been wheelchair bound for a decade found themselves able to walk after the treatment, while other patients who had lost their eyesight could see again. Clinical trials were held in the UK at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield and King’s College Hospital in London (24 patients), and in the US at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, funded by the Danhakl family, the Cumming Foundation, the Zakat Foundation, the McNamara Purcell Foundation, and Morgan Stanley and Company.
While all of this sounds too good to be true, let’s take a step back and evaluate the truth behind these claims.
Multiple sclerosis or MS is a debilitating condition that affects the nerves in the spinal cord and the brain. This autoimmune disease confuses the body’s immune system into believing that its own nerve cells need to be attacked. This internal raging war causes muscle movement problems, loss of vision and balance, etc. As of right now, there is NO sure-shot cure for MS. However, there are a number of treatment options and clinical trials that are being conducted all over the globe.
Most of the cells in our body are specialized cells i.e. they serve a specific function. Stem cells differ from these specialized cells owing to their ability to duplicate themselves (self-renewal), and to create specialized cells (differentiation). When it comes to MS, researchers theorize that stem cell therapy can work in two ways – it can prevent/reduce nerve cell damage (neuroprotection), and it can help create specialized cells to repair the damaged myelin layer on the nerve fibers attacked by MS.
The new studies and clinical trials are focused on relapsing remitting MS which is the most common type. In this type of MS, patients have to endure severe attacks, after which the symptoms simmer down or fade away completely for a while. The sample size for the Chicago study was 145 patients, and the results showed that, over a period of 4 years, approximately 64 percent of the MS sufferers displayed “significant reductions in their levels of disability”.
The stem cell therapy treatment option is of an extremely aggressive nature. The purported treatment uses large doses of chemotherapy to effectively “knock out” the malfunctioning cells in the immune system. After the existing faulty cells are destroyed, stem cells sourced from the patient’s blood are used to rebuild the destroyed cells. This allows the immune system to restart from scratch.
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