Stem cell transplants “hugely encouraging” for multiple sclerosis patients

Sheffield doctors have hailed stem cell transplants as a “game changer” for patients with multiple sclerosis.

Royal Hallamshire Hospital was the sole UK site for the international trial, which found it was able to stop the disease and improve symptoms.

The treatment rebuilds a patient’s immune system using stem cells harvested from their own blood and bone marrow.

In the UK, 100,000 people suffer with MS, which attacks nerves in the brain and spinal cord.

Over 100 people took part in the latest trial, in hospitals in Sheffield, Sweden, Chicago and Brazil.

All the patients had relapsing remitting MS – where attacks or relapses are followed by periods of remission – despite being treated with disease modifying drugs.

The provisional results were released at the annual meeting of the European Society for Bone and Marrow Transplantation in Lisbon.

Each participant received either the best available drug treatment or autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT).

While 39 people in the drug group relapsed after a year, only one among the stem cell group relapsed.

After three years, the transplants had only failed in six per cent of 52 patients, compared with 60 per cent in the other group.

Those who received stem cell transplantation experienced a reduction in disability, whereas symptoms worsened in the drug group.

Professor Basil Sharrack, Consultant Neurologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are very excited by these hugely encouraging findings, which are the first to assess the long-term effectiveness of AHSCT in people with the active relapsing remitting form of the disease in a phase three randomised trial.”

Dr Susan Kohlaas, Director of Research at the MS Society, said: “More than 100,000 people are living with MS in the UK and many are really excited about the potential AHSCT offers. It will soon be recognised as an established treatment in England and when that happens our priority will be making sure those who could benefit can actually get it.

“We’ve seen life changing results for some people and having that opportunity can’t depend on your postcode.

“The MIST results are important and show this area needs further research. While AHSCT appears to be effective for some people with MS, it remains a high-risk treatment that won’t be right for everyone. We now need to know how AHSCT compares to existing, less aggressive, MS treatment options.”