Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disabling disease of the immune system that affects approximately 2.3 million people throughout the world. The disease attacks the myelin (protective sheath nerve fibers and causes communication problems between the brain and the body. Overtime, the disease can cause the nerves to deteriorate or become permanently damaged.
MS is caused by a malfunctioning immune system. “The immune system typically defends the body against disease, viruses and bacteria, but the disease instead attacks the myelin sheath, causing disruption of proper functioning of the nervous system.” Said health entrepreneur Jason Hope. “Individuals who are badly affected often lose the ability to use their limbs.”
There are four main types of MS:
- Relapsing remitting MS (RRMS)-about 85% of those with MS are diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS, which is identified by periods of acute attacks with symptoms that worsen and then followed by a partial or complete recovery (remission).
- Secondary progressive MS (SPMS)-after an intial period of RRMS, many individuals with MS develop secondary MS, which is characterized by an accumulation of gradual disability, either with or without relapsing SPMS or non-relapsing SPMS.
- Primary progressive MS (PPMS)-about 10-15 percent of those diagnosed have this form of MS, which is an accumulation of gradual disability from the beginning; there are no distinct periods of remission and relapses.
- Progressive relapsing MS- this is a relatively rare course of MS (only 5%), in which people experience continual worsening of the disease from the initial onset and with obvious attacks of worsening neurological function along the way. These individuals may or may not experience some recovery following the relapse, but the disease will continue to progress without any remissions.
Treatment For MS
Until recently, the only treatment available was for the symptoms of the disease themselves, not specifically for the disease. In a recent study, doctors in Canada conducted a lengthy experiment involving stem cell transplant. There were 24 patients who participated in the experiment and they were expected to be wheelchair confined within a ten year period. After receiving the stem cell transplant treatment, the majority of the patients regained control of their lives and were able to drive, walk and play sports. The stem cell therapy is risky and radical, however, it has been shown to halt and in some situations, even reverse some of the symptoms of those who were affected the worst by MS.
Different Types of Stem Cells
There are four known types of stem cells:
- Adult stem cells, which are derived from an adult human body.
- Embryonic stem cells, which are derived from embryos
- Fetal stem cells, which are derived from aborted fetuses
- Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which are from some parts of the human body. These types of stem cells are engineered from older, more specialized cells, such as skin cells.
How do Stem Cells Work in MS Patients?
MS is thought to be an autoimmune condition, meaning the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and ultimately damages the myelin sheath protecting the nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain. The damage causes the messages going to and from the brain to be distorted, slowed or stopped, which is what leads to the symptoms of MS. Damages to the myelin sheath are what causes the MS attacks or relapses. During the attacks, symptoms flare up, lasting from 24 hours to several months. The stem cell treatment is designed to target the myelin sheath by introducing the stem cells past the blood brain barrier, allowing them to differentiate into and repair the damaged myelin sheath nerve cells. This is a process known as remyelination. Also, beneficial are the introduction of adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells, which have the ability to repair the immune system, possibly preventing it from attacking itself.
According to CNN Health, the study conducted in Canada was a combination of chemotherapy and stem cell transplants, which is though to stop the onslaught of MS in those who are suffering with the disease. This treatment used an aggressive form of chemotherapy to destroy the immune system and the stem cells (taken from the patient’s blood) were used to rebuild it. The research was conducted on the 24 patients in three hospitals. Of the 24 patients (aged 18 to 50) involved in the study, the disabilities ranged from moderate MS symptoms to the requirement of a walking aid. In 23 of the patients, the chemotherapy and stem cell therapy combination halted the development of new brain lesions and without the need for ongoing medications. It is important to keep in mind that every patient is different and any patient who receives treatment will react differently. However, patients who have received the stem cell therapy typically see a full a full effect of the treatment within six months. This is an aggressive treatment, however, the treatment offers hope.