For those who suffer the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis, a disease that destroys the nervous system, new hope has arrived in the form of a commonly used treatment for cancer and similar illnesses.
Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, or HSCT, is the process of using the patients own stem cells to re-establish function in patients whose own immune systems are damaged or defective. The cells are collected from the patient, then “cleansed” and frozen for storage. Meanwhile, the patient undergoes a mild form of chemotherapy to stop the defective immune system from functioning. Then the patient has their own stem cells pumped back into their body where they grow and “reboot” their immune system to a healthy, normal function.
The procedure has been practiced for several years in Europe and other parts of the world where it has seen great results.
More recently here in the United States, studies have been conducted in Chicago, Seattle, and New York where scientists are seeing results that mimic those of their international counterparts. Currently, the treatment is awaiting FDA approval which is due in 2018.
Multiple sclerosis involves having a faulty immune system which attacks and destroys the myelin sheath, a covering around the nerves as well as the spinal cord. When this myelin is destroyed it can result in loss of motor function, vision, bowel and bladder function, and the ability to walk, talk, and swallow food.
Patients who have undergone the procedure report that their multiple sclerosis halts progression completely with some even experiencing the return of physical functioning previously lost due to the disease damaging parts of the brain.
Currently, the only FDA acceptable treatments for multiple sclerosis are pharmaceutical drugs. The first drugs for the treatment of MS became available in 1993. Since then, over a dozen more medications have been released for use to the public. Some of these medications include the injectable drug interferon-beta which was previously used on cancer patients in the 1980s and HIV patients in the early 1990s. These medications work by suppressing the immune system and preventing it from attacking the myelin which surrounds the nerves. However, it also causes patients to suffer side effects such as ‘flu-like’ symptoms and makes them more susceptible to common infections.
If this treatment were to be made widely available and affordable, it could be a life-changer for so many multiple sclerosis sufferers whose lives have been altered or put on hold due to their illnesses.