Multiple sclerosis, or MS affects about 400,000 Americans with about 200 new cases identified each week. It’s more common in women than men, and most commonly diagnosed in adults between with an average age of 30 to 35. It’s more common among people of Northern or Central European descent. MS is believed to be a result of the immune system attacking itself. The immune system attacks the nerve-insulating myelin disrupting communication between the brain and other parts of the body.
Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield and Kings College Hospital, London, say they have effectively “rebooted” the immune systems of some two dozen patients, actually reversing the disease in some of them.
In the new treatment, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, specialists aggressively destroy the immune system before rebuilding it with stem cells taken from the patient’s own blood. Stem cells are used because they can become any cell in the body based on their environment. Once the immune system is destroyed, the harvested stem cells can begin to grow new red and white blood cells within just two weeks. Within a month, the immune system has recovered and patients begin to improve.
Professor Basil Sharrack, a neurologist spoke about the treatment:
“Since we started treating patients three years ago, some of the results we have seen have been miraculous…. This is not a word I would use lightly, but we have seen profound neurological improvements.”
Sharrack warns patients need to be healthy to benefit from the treatment:
“This is not a treatment that is suitable for everybody because it is very aggressive and patients need to be quite fit to withstand the effects of the chemotherapy.”
Other researchers urged hopeful caution because this research has been trialed only with a small number of patients and no control group. These promising results will surely spur more research.
MS is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system that can be relatively benign to somewhat disabling to devastating.
Symptoms include problems with vision and muscle weakness that can affect the ability to stand or walk:
- Blurred or double vision
- Red-green color distortion
- Blindness in one eye
- Speech impediments
- Hearing loss
- Muscle weakness in extremities
- Numbness, prickling, or “pins and needles” sensations
- Difficulty with coordination or balance
- Impaired walking or standing
- Partial or complete paralysis
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