""There is no other treatment that brings about such a reversal in multiple sclerosis," says Bhupendra Khatri, M.D., the study's principal investigator and director of Aurora's Regional Multiple Sclerosis Center. "This treatment can turn lives around."
Over 25 years, Dr. Khatri and his team followed 271 patients with chronic and progressive multiple sclerosis. These patients had not responded to drug therapy and were experiencing an increasing decline in their motor and verbal abilities. Patients received weekly plasma exchange treatments for 10 weeks, with the pace of plasma exchange therapy slowing over time or as their condition improved.
Out of 271 patients, 217 or 80 percent, saw a long-term improvement in their disability.
Unlike conventional multiple sclerosis treatments, such as chemotherapy drugs, which can have serious side effects such as heart damage or leukemia, the plasma exchange therapy was found to be safe, with no serious side effects.
The study, "Sustained Long-Term Improvement in Disability with Plasma Exchange in Patients with Worsening Multiple Sclerosis: Results of a 25-Year Study," was presented April 29 at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting in Seattle.
Dr. Khatri explained that patients with chronic, progressive multiple sclerosis may see their condition stabilize with conventional therapies, but they generally do not see any improvement in their condition. This is what makes the plasma exchange therapy all the more remarkable, according to Dr. Khatri. Not only did the majority of patients with worsening symptoms respond to plasma exchange, over time many patients found their weak limbs became stronger, their steps steadier and their speech clearer. Some grew strong enough that they could return to work.
Plasma exchange is a process where the patient's blood is run through a centrifuge, which separates out the plasma. The plasma is replaced with a synthetic fluid, and the blood is returned to the patient. Plasma exchange is thought to work because it filters out the agents that attack the nervous system. Once the bloodstream is cleared, the body has the opportunity to repair itself.