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Stem Cell Transplant May Counter Aggressive MS

Reports have come out on long-term studies for stem cell transplants that help fight more aggressive – or rapidly progressing – multiple sclerosis.

The treatment is called hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), consists of removing the patient’s immune and other blood cells, then replacing them with new bone marrow stem cells from the same patient.

But, scientists and doctors not involved with the study recognize that it is a very risky and controversial procedure.

Dr. Aaron Miller, chief medical officer for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and a professor of neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, says that the idea behind the procedure is to “reset the thermostat and start fresh,” adding that he does not think the treatment will have a lasting effect on the field.

“This is a very heroic form of therapy for multiple sclerosis [MS], which is unlikely, in my view, ever to have a major impact on the field,” added Miller. “It’s a substantially risky therapy — the mortality rates have been in the 2-3 percent range . . . and it’s hugely expensive.”

The study was started 15 years ago and the results of the study were published in the March 22nd issue of Neurology.

Now, after 15 years, the authors report that overall 25 percent of the 35 initial patients are stabilized. The success rate was better — 44 percent — for those with active brain lesions, signaling aggressive disease, they found.

Many had a lessening of their disability, and fewer and smaller lesions in the brain.

Two participants, or 6 percent, died of complications from the transplant.

The authors of the report say they are continuing their research of the more aggressive types of MS. But, with the high mortality rate of patients in the study, continued research may be difficult because of a lack of volunteers.

Still, some doctors and researchers say that the procedure could be a way to improve the lives of those with aggressive MS, and that it is a good first step in treating aggressive MS.

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