Some Forms of MS Might Be Treatable with Hematopoietic Stem Cells

Some Forms of MS Might Be Treatable with Hematopoietic Stem Cells

Clinical trials suggest that hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), a common treatment for bone marrow and blood cancers, could also help people with multiple sclerosis (MS). The technique involves harvesting new, undeveloped blood or bone marrow (hematopoietic) cells, typically from the person affected with the disease (autologous). The goal is to remove the faulty cells and replace them with new, cancer-free cells.

In MS, the immune system launches an attack on the body’s own myelin, mistaking it for a foreign invader. The damage to the myelin, in turn, hinders the ability of nerves to conduct impulses, and results in difficulties that include movement, vision, sensation, pain, and cognition. Available treatments focus on addressing disease symptoms, but stem cell replacement aims to restart the misdirected immune system, preventing the actual cause of the disease.

A recent article, published by researchers in Australia, reviewed whether HSCT could become an MS clinical treatment. In the article, “Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation for multiple sclerosis: is it a clinical reality?” that appeared on Jan. 16, 2016, in the journal Stem Cell Research and Therapy, Maha M. Bakhuraysah of Department of Medicine, Monash University, and colleagues discussed studies supporting the MS stem cell approach. According to the authors, “preclinical data derived from animal models of MS … have provided clear identification of multipotent stem cells that can reconstitute the immune system to override the autoimmune attack of the central nervous system.” However, patients must be carefully selected to determine those most likely to respond to the treatment. Autologous human stem cell therapy, they note, “is considered to be a sledgehammer approach for treating MS patients, [but] one that will be astoundingly effective when used on appropriately selected patients.”

For example, some of the treatments used to remove the diseased immune system are extremely toxic, and may not be tolerated by elderly patients. MS type may also determine whether a patient should undergo the treatment. One trial demonstrated that people with active MS in particular responded to treatment. Other research indicates that disease in patients with extremely high levels of disability may continue to progress despite stem cell replacement. Because several different approaches have been used in clinical trials, the researchers note that these observations are preliminary and may apply to specific treatments.

Another important factor includes the purity of the stem cells obtained. Cells can be sorted and selected according to size and shape, and through the use of antibodies that specifically recognize the hematopoietic stem cell. Purity is an important part of the treatment, since the hematopoietic stem cells make up only 0.01% of the body’s nucleus-containing cells and the replacement cells should include only immature cells, and not mature cells because of their chance of restarting the disease.

In conclusion, the authors said that “HSCT is a plausible treatment paradigm for MS patients.” The therapy as an MS treatment is still in the early stages, but many trials have shown positive results. The authors emphasize the need for more studies examining which patients will best respond to specific stem cell treatments.


    • Craig Tyler says:

      The best source of information I have found for HSCT for MS is on the Facebook group “Hematopioetic Stem Cell Transplant – MS & Autoimmune Diseases”. Being in the RRMS stage typically makes you an ideal candidate, according to many published studies.

  1. Aisha Farhat says:

    I have secondary progressive ms but it started 3 years after the remitting and relapsing
    Form would this help me as I’m a young mum of 3. Will there be any promise of the stem cell to be used with spms?

  2. Alisa Woods, PhD says:

    From the National MS society:

    ” An international, placebo-controlled, phase II stem cell trial involving people with MS who show specific signs of inflammation and active disease, including people with primary progressive MS, secondary-progressive MS and relapsing-remitting MS, is getting underway at multiple sites in Europe and Canada. The “MESEMS” trial will test benefits and safety of using individuals’ own bone marrow cells, which are extracted and then given by intravenous infusion immediately or six months after extraction. The goal is to inhibit immune mechanisms and to augment tissue repair. THIS TRIAL IS BEGINNING TO RECRUIT PARTICIPANTS. GO TO THE MESEMS WEBSITE FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ABOUT LOCATION AND CONTACT INFORMATION.”

  3. Craig Tyler says:

    HSCT for MS is nothing new. HSCT for MS has been performed for 20 years. HSCT for MS is not a “recent” development. Australia has been very slow to acknowledge. MS people deserve better — more current, accurate information. Contrary to what was stated, many trials show great results – not “some promise”. This is clearly evident in many published studies.

  4. Devon says:

    It’s important to be clear that the only reason HSCT in the U.S. is considered for just those whose disease fits a particular criteria such as “active MS” is because all trials need to create criteria that will more strongly argue their case. But the reality is that HSCT is being used to successfully halt MS in people with RRMS, SPMS and PPMS in the UK, Germany, Russia, Israel, Mexico, etc. Many of these treatments are non-myeloablative and less severe than the similar cancer treatments.

  5. Marc Stecker says:

    Just FYI, your characterization of the Fassas study isn’t quite correct. The study did show efficacy in patients with active disease, but this includes patients with RRMS, most of who have active disease ( i.e. relapses and/or enhancing lesions). Note too that this is an older study (2011), and more recent research (including some done by Dr. Fassas) strongly suggests that the treatment is only suited for patients with active inflammatory disease. This excludes the vast majority of patients with progressive illness (SPMS,PPMS).

  6. Stacy Kelsey says:

    This is all so confusing. I just found out I have MS and didnt even know there was different kinds. Is there a way of wading through and getting help of what to read online. I have been reading different things and the more I read the more I am confused. I was told on 1/7/16 I have MS but nothing was said about what kind…

  7. Keith says:

    It is not a surprise that despite a couple decades of overwhelmingly positive results, HSCT is still not in the mainstream. Talk to a local neurologist and they will tell you that it’s unproven and not safe yet. At what point will it be safe? They take stem cells from your bone marrow and kill your immune system and then reboot your whole body. That will probably never be 100% cozy, but it is close to 100% successful. But most neurologists will lose patients (my wife hasn’t had to seen a local neurologist in 3 years after having HSCT in Chicago in 2013) and therefore their pride. This is common knowledge to people who have had this treatment. The important thing is that despite what your neuro, who may have even been on your team for years, says is best, you have to decide for yourself.

    My wife was in a wheelchair with faded vision. She had little strength in her left hand. She couldn’t feel her feet. But her neurologist said that HSCT was too risky. We went against him and with Dr Burt (the originator of this treatment), and here we are 3 years later having no disease activity in any MRI since. She’s on no medicine. She just ran a 5k. She cooks, cleans and goes to the gym. But when she went to her local neurologist, he said things like, “Why are you here?” And, “I don’t think you are doing any better.”

    When it comes down to it, the pride in the medical community is unbelievable. Even longstanding foundations don’t support HSCT. After all, if there actually is something that can cure many people, what would they do with their life? I have heard stories time and time again of these types of experiences. But one thing that can’t be shut down…the testimony of someone who experiences this fresh start through HSCT.

    Check out for a Phase III trial that’s been going on for 20 years and is almost ready to complete their trial phase and move into the mainstream.

  8. Geoff Flynn says:

    I was lucky enough to have HSCT in Israel in October of last year. The results have so far been fantastic. I’m PPMS and only received discouragement from my neurologist and the MS clinic. Even doctors that support HSCT like Burt and Freedman say it won’t work for PPMS. I find that puzzling since the evidence says otherwise. Though it’s often said it’s too risky they have no problem letting the disease destroy you while doing nothing. I find it unconscionable.

    • tibri says:

      so true, i would see all those neurologists as it was their own daugther or son which were inexorably debilitating and suffering if they do not reconsider their point of view about doing HSCT even if it “only” stop the disease progression.
      Shame on them and shame upon almost a great part of the medical corporation part of the business that represents a lifetime treatment.

    • Fara says:

      So Happy for you and your recovery. I bet you are so lucky that you weren’t discouraged or disappointed by the other Neurologists’ comments and blocks in your well-becoming direction.
      I have SPMS and because of being over 50, I’m rejected of being treated in HSCT trial in Canada. How about Israel? and cost around more than US$100,000?

      • Geoff Flynn says:

        Hi Fara, I had seen enough evidence that I was convinced it was worth a shot. There is nothing for ppms so my choices were try hsct or let the disease progress. It has a 75% chance of working on primary progresssive and 80% with remitting relapsing, so well worth the risk. I was turned down in Canada as well. Dr Freedman’s people told me it doesn’t work for primary progressive. Sadly the clinic I went to in Israel (CTCI) has been shut down. It was 126 k USD. They do it as an outpatient procedure and the government doesn’t like that. They have been shut down before and won the right to reopen after legal proceedings. Hopefully they’ll be open again soon. In the meantime, there is another facility at Hadassah that does it. Also you can apply to Mexico, Russia, and I think the Philippines. Are you on Facebook?

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