Scientists have discovered a groundbreaking treatment that could stop the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS) in its tracks.
A team of international researchers published their findings Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Cell Stem Cell that show stem cell injections could protect the brain from the chronic disease.
In their first-in-man, early-stage clinical trial, researchers injected neural stem cells into the brains of 15 patients with secondary MS recruited from two hospitals in Italy.
All participants had high levels of disability (such as requiring a wheelchair) at the start of the trial but encouragingly showed no worsening of the debilitating illness a year later.
During the 12 months that the patients were observed, they reported no serious adverse symptoms.
Some noted minor side effects, but all were found to be temporary or reversible.
The research team also analyzed a subgroup of patients and found that a larger dose of injected stem cells led to a smaller reduction in brain volume over time — suggesting that the stem cell transplant reduced inflammation.
MS is an unpredictable disease that impacts the central nervous system and disrupts the flow of information between the brain and the body, leading to a wide array of symptoms, including numbness, tingling, mood changes, memory problems, pain, fatigue, blindness and paralysis.
The condition eventually becomes debilitating for two-thirds of patients within 25-30 years of diagnosis.
While there are several approved treatments to help patients manage the condition, there is no cure or solution to stave off the disease, making experts very optimistic about these findings.
“These results show that special stem cells injected into the brain were safe and well-tolerated by people with secondary progressive MS,” Caitlin Astbury, research communications manager at the MS Society, said in a statement.
“They also suggest this treatment approach might even stabilize disability progression,” she added.
Over 2.8 million people live with MS worldwide, including 1 million in the US, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society reports.
“We desperately need to develop new treatments for secondary progressive MS, and I am cautiously very excited about our findings, which are a step towards developing a cell therapy for treating MS,” Stefano Pluchino from the University of Cambridge, who co-led the study, said in a statement.
“We recognize that our study has limitations — it was only a small study and there may have been confounding effects from the immunosuppressant drugs, for example — but the fact that our treatment was safe and that its effects lasted over the 12 months of the trial means that we can proceed to the next stage of clinical trials.”