"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.
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 associated with this aggressive protocol."
And success was limited.
But, for the new study, researchers tweaked the technique and moved it to relapse-remitting patients who were younger than in previous studies.
"This is a safer approach, and we do it earlier in the disease because people have less disability so it's safer again," Burt said.