Stem cell transplants have been researched to restore immune system function in people with hematologic cancers, including lymphoma. Now, the therapy is also considered an option for those with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and lupus. In theory, the stem cells would reset the immune system to prevent it from attacking healthy tissue as it does in autoimmune conditions.
Patients with autoimmune conditions can use transplanted stem cells from a source such as autologous adipose (fat) tissue or bone marrow, which is easily accessible from one’s own body and thereby minimizing the risk of serious infection. While there are dozens of autoimmune conditions for which the treatment may be effective, one condition appearing to respond particularly well is MS.
In patients with Multiple Sclerosis, the immune system attacks the protective sheath surrounding the nerves within the brain and spinal column known as the myelin. In doing so, it creates inflammation and lesions. This can result in a series of potentially debilitating symptoms, such as fatigue, dizziness, slurred speech, and tingling or pain in different parts of the body, as well as bowel and bladder dysfunction.
To test the theory that stem cells might help to control the autoimmune response in certain conditions, a group from Northwestern University in Chicago studied 151 people with MS who were given stem cell transplants. The team analyzed patient outcomes for up to four years after the treatment and observed statistically significant improvements in factors such as the Multiple Sclerosis Functional Composite (MSFC), lesion volume, and quality of life, among other key measures. At four years, MS had not progressed in 87% of the patients. Some of the patients reported improvements in their ability to walk following the treatment, despite using a wheelchair beforehand.
Some stem cell transplants work by having the patient undergo chemotherapy to suppress their immune system. Then, a transplant with blood-forming stem cells is administered. Another transplant is also administered via infusion through a major blood vessel.
Now, many people with autoimmune conditions are receiving mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which can be sourced from adipose tissue, umbilical cord tissue, or bone marrow. This approach may not require the use of immune-suppressing agents to the same degree other treatments would, especially if the cells were to be sourced from the patient themselves. Some are even using exosomes as another option in their treatment.
There are several clinical trials ongoing to determine the feasibility of this approach, and as more results are published, experts are hopeful that people with MS will begin to have access to a wider range of treatment options.
This post was written by Becky Palmer, a medical professional at Stemedix Inc. At Stemedix we provide access to Regenerative Medicine for multiple sclerosis, also known as stem cell therapy for multiple sclerosis. Regenerative medicine has the natural potential to help improve symptoms sometimes lost from the progression of many conditions.