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Stem Cell Transplants Help MS Victims
Date:1/29/2009

'Resetting' overactive immune system in early stages of disease worked, study finds

THURSDAY, Jan. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Stem cell transplantation seems to stop and, in some cases, undo neurological damage in people with multiple sclerosis, a small study shows.

The trial involved just 21 patients, but a larger, randomized trial is under way in the United States, Canada and Brazil.

"This is the first trial for any phase of MS, whether early or later, of any therapy anywhere that has shown reversal of neurological disability," said study author Dr. Richard K. Burt, chief of the division of immunotherapy at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

MS is a disease in which the immune system turns on the body and attacks myelin, the protective covering on nerve cells. The disease usually starts with a "relapse-remitting" phase, with alternating periods of flare-ups of symptoms and relatively peaceful spans. After a decade or so, however, most patients move into the more severe, secondary-progressive form of the disease.

"There is a need to find a means by which we can control the progression of MS, particularly in these patients who are not responding to FDA-approved therapies," said Patricia O'Looney, vice president of biomedical research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Treatments are clustered toward the relapse-remitting stage, with little available for the latter stage. "Generally, when you get to late progressive MS, nothing really works," Burt said.

The technique used in this study, autologous non-myeloablative hemopoietic stem cell transplantation, "resets" the immune system and is already used for secondary-progressive MS.

"This has primarily been used over the last 10 to 15 years in progressive MS patients, people who are doing terribly, and we have nothing to offer them," O'Looney explained. "There have been some fatalities associ
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