New stem cell experiment could make difference in lives of those affected by MS

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More than 2.3 million people are affected by multiple sclerosis worldwide.  It’s estimated many more may have the condition, with masked symptoms. So it’s no wonder any kind of intervention or treatment would be greeted with caution and optimism.

Becky Hopkins noticed numbness in her hands and torso close to eight years ago.  But with exercise and weekly injections of a medicine, she’s been able to tamp down the progression of the disease.

In an early study, researchers removed stem cells from MS patients and gave them low dose chemotherapy to turn down their immune system.  In MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheath around nerve fibers.  In this study, patients got their stem cells back.  Half saw modest improvements in functioning in the two years of follow-up.

“In the lifespan of a patient with MS, that’s a relatively short time,” says Dr. Christine Boutwell. “So we really need to gather more information for long-term implications, but I do think it’s a very exciting study.”

The neurologist at St. Luke’s Hospital also cautions that improvement were only seen in people with earlier disease, like Becky Hopkins. She has what’s called relapsing-Remitting MS.

This study didn’t compare stem cell therapy to other therapies.

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