Prepare your brain for a word scramble: multiple sclerosis hematopoietic stem cell transplant patient. Yes, that’s a real thing, and yes, it is kind of mind blowing.
Why you should care about that word scramble
Dr Richard Burt , Chief of the Division of Medicine-Immunotherapy and Autoimmune Diseases and colleagues at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine have recently published the results of a study into hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) which show that HSCT could be the first therapy of its kind to reverse MS-induced disability. And though the study group for this study is small, the implications are monumental.
The revolutionary study
The study group consisted of 151 subjects who each underwent a stem cell transplant. In order for their bodies to accept the transplant, the strength of their immune systems was reduced through low doses of chemotherapy. Doctors then implemented the HSCT therapy, which involved reintroducing previously harvested stem cells from the patient back into their bloodstream in order to restore their immune systems. The volunteer patients were then discharged and went about their normal lives, with no need for any follow-up maintenance drugs.
Over the course of several years, these volunteers were administered periodic tests designed to measure their physical coordination, walking ability, and cognitive abilities. These tests included undergoing fMRI scans and completing questionnaires, which measured their quality of life.
At two-years post-transplant, half of the group displayed marked improvements in their disability. At the four-year mark, over eighty percent of the subjects were relapse-free.
HSCT is poised to shake things up in the MS therapy world
There are currently 12 FDA-approved disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) that treat relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), all of which cost around £3,000 per month, and are required to be taken indefinitely to avoid relapse. DMT has not been proven to reverse patient disability.
HSCT, however, costs around £100,000 per patient, and is estimated to pay for itself following 18 months post-surgery.
But more study is needed
These HSCT transplants are the first of their kind to offer an MS treatment that has shown to reverse disability in patients. Currently, HSCT treatment is available only in clinical trials.
This team of scientists is also conducting a larger trial, which compares HSCT to FDA-approved DMTs at three different centers. They are currently enrolling, and those interested in learning more can find out here.