DENVER, CO – There’s a potential new treatment for people with severe cases of multiple sclerosis, according to research presented during the American Academy of Neurology’s 54th Annual Meeting in Denver, Colo., April 13-20, 2002. The new treatment involves removing stem cells from the patients’ blood, killing the cells that are working against the body’s immune system and then returning the healthy cells back to the body.
“The hope is that these stem cells will eventually reconstitute into healthy immune system cells and the disease process can be stopped,” said study author George Kraft, MD, MS, of the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.
For the study, 26 people with severe MS underwent this treatment, which is called autologous stem cell transplantation. Their results were followed for an average of 14.2 months. Conventional treatments had previously been unsuccessful for all of the patients, either because they had no improvement or were not able to tolerate the side effects.
Fifteen of the patients had tried multiple treatments with no success. After the stem cell transplant, 20 patients were stable, with no change in their amount of disability. Six patients showed some degree of mild improvement in some measures, Kraft said.
“This is good news,” said Kraft. “These patients had all been rapidly deteriorating over the past year, so to get them to a point where they are stabilized is great progress.”
In the 12 months prior to the study, all of the patients had deteriorated by one or more points on a scale that measures MS disability. For those patients who improved during the study, improvement was up to one-half point on the scale.
At one year after the transplant, only three patients had new brain lesions, which are a result of MS disease activity. Only two of the patients have needed to take MS disease-modifying drugs since the transplant, Kraft said.
Kraft said the treatment needs to be studied on more patients to confirm its effectiveness and studies are also needed to determine its long-term effect.
Some patients had complications following the procedure. One patient, who was the only patient to receive one form of an immunosuppressive drug used in the study due to a reaction to the other form of the drug, developed viruses that can affect transplant patients and died several weeks later. Another patient developed Guillain-Barre syndrome and pneumonia 17 months after the transplant. And one patient had a fever with no known cause soon after the transplant and, as a result, worsened by one point on the disability scale.
The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 18,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research.
For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit its web site at http://www.aan.com.
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