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Stem Cell Transplant May Help Aggressive MS: Study
Date:3/21/2011

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, March 21 (HealthDay News) -- Stem cell transplants may hold some hope for patients with rapidly progressing multiple sclerosis, the authors of a long-term study report.

The controversial treatment, known as hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), involves ablating, or removing, the patients' immune and other blood cells, then replacing it with new bone marrow stem cells from the same patient.

The idea is to "reset the thermostat and start fresh," said Dr. Aaron Miller, chief medical officer for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and a professor of neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

But Miller, who was not involved in the study, doubts the procedure will become a viable option for patients with aggressive multiple sclerosis.

"This is a very heroic form of therapy for multiple sclerosis [MS], which is unlikely, in my view, ever to have a major impact on the field," added Miller. "It's a substantially risky therapy -- the mortality rates have been in the 2-3 percent range . . . and it's hugely expensive."

MS is a disease of the nervous system. There is no known cause or cure, and in severe cases patients may be unable to write, speak or walk.

This study, published in the March 22 issue of Neurology, was begun 15 years ago. Back then, "perhaps we didn't have other good alternatives for aggressive disease," he said. "I think we now have better and safer alternatives."

Those alternatives include the biologic therapies Tysabri (natalizumab) and Gilenya (fingolimod), approved in 2006 and 2010, respectively. But Miller emphasized these can only be considered "potentially" more effective than HSCT because the two have never been tested head-to-head.

The trial organizers reported earlier that 80 percent of patients receiving HSCT treatment had stabilized disease after five years. They also noted po
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