The symptoms of multiple sclerosis could be reversed thanks to stem cell transplants from the patient’s own bone marrow, according to a study that will be published in March in Lancet Neurology by researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, who say that stem cell transplants could restore the immune system of patients suffering from the disease, stopping its evolution, and even causing its regression.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease characterized by a defective immune system, which attacks the body’s own tissues in the central nervous system, and effects 57 thousand Italians. The disease develops through a process called “demyelinization”, which causes the deterioration of myelin – sheaths composed of fatty acids that cover nerve fibers – slowing or completely stopping the transmission of nerve impulses along the fibers in the brain and the spinal cord.
The study, which lasted for 3 years, was performed on 21 patients between the ages of 20 and 53, suffering from multiple sclerosis, whose immune systems were first suppressed, then restored with hematopoietic stem cell transplants using stem cells extracted from their own bone marrow. The stem cells had the role of rebuilding a “normal immune system”, which would attack only foreign agents.
The results have shown that 81pct of the subjects experienced an improvement: the course of the disease was slowed, and in some cases the illness actually started to regress. The patient’s ability to move was improved and continued to increase in the years following the operation. Only 5 patients reported side-effects, which proved to be easily curable.
The researchers’ objectives were to repeat the procedure, which proved to be able to prevent the progression of multiple sclerosis and reverse the process of the neurological disability with a greater number of patients, in order to confirm their results.