May 7, 2008

Bone Marrow Treatments Helped Patients with MS

Patients who received bone marrow stem-cell transplants have reported remission of their disease, but Dr. Mark Freedman of the University of Ottawa is unable to explain why.

"Not a single patient, and it's almost seven years, has ever had a relapse," Freedman said.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive inflammatory disorder that affects the central nervous system. An estimated 1 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with MS. No cure is known.

"The disease is almost always progressing, but one of our primary concerns is to identify those patients before they experience rapid progression," Freedman said.

Freedman set up an experiment in which doctors destroyed the bone marrow and thus the immune systems of MS patients.

Stem cells known as hematopoeitic stem cells, blood-forming cells taken from the bone marrow, were transplanted back into the patients in hopes of refreshing their immune systems.

"We weren't looking for improvement," Freedman said.

"The actual study was to reboot the immune system."

"You've already missed the boat," once a person is diagnosed with MS, he said.

"We figured we would reboot the immune system and watch the disease evolve. It failed."

Improvements were noticeable two years after treatment.

"We have yet to get the disease to restart," he said. Patients are not developing some of the characteristic brain lesions seen in MS. "But we are seeing this repair."

Freedman said is team is still trying to determine what caused the repair, but he noticed one thing that may be useful for future research.

"Those with a lot of inflammation going on were the most likely to benefit (from the treatment)," he said.

"We need some degree of inflammation." While inflammation may be the process that destroys myelin, it could be that the body needs some inflammation to make repairs.

The treatment was shown to carry some risk. One patient died during the process when the chemicals intended to destroy his bone marrow also damaged his liver.


On the Net:

University of Ottawa

National MS Society