How stem cells are helping the fight against multiple sclerosis
Stem cells are proving to be a real ally in the battle against multiple sclerosis (MS). Research is revealing how they can help to slow down the effects of the disease, and repair damage that has already occurred.
One current therapy showing real success is autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT). It uses stem cells that are collected from the patient just prior to treatment, and later injected back into the body.
Another therapy under investigation involves mesenchymal stem cells, which are found in the umbilical cord blood. Researchers believe that these stem cells could be used to ‘reset’ the immune system of MS sufferers. They can also be used to augment or ‘top up’ the stem cells taken from a patient undergoing AHSCT.
Investing in your child’s future
Significant clinical research is being carried out on stem cell therapies, and exciting progress is being made. This progress is likely to accelerate in the future.
Because of that, many forward-looking parents are using umbilical cord blood banks to store their newborn children’s cord blood stem cells. They see this as a sound investment and a smart way of protecting their children’s future health. It allows the stem cells potentially to be used later in life as a treatment against MS (and up to 80 other diseases).
Parents see umbilical cord blood banking as a sound investment and a smart way of protecting their children’s future health.
What is multiple sclerosis and how bad is it?
MS is the most widespread neurological condition affecting young adults (most typically between the ages of 20 and 40) around the world. According to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, an estimated 2.5 million have MS worldwide, with available data showing a noticeable increase in the number of cases in the Arab Gulf countries.
The disease is caused when the body’s immune system attacks the myelin, an insulating substance that protects the nerve fibres in the central nervous system, progressively affecting the brain and spinal cord. Once the myelin sheath has been damaged, impulses cannot be conducted normally along nerves to and from the brain and spinal cord, resulting in a wide range of symptoms that can affect sensation, movement, body functions and balance.
MS is generally a progressive condition, worsening over time. The most common form is relapse-remitting MS (RRMS) where patients experience attacks (or relapses) in which their motor skills or other neurologic functions worsen. The relapses are then followed by periods of partial or complete recovery (remissions) in which symptoms partially or completely disappear.
How stem cells can treat MS
Significant progress is being made as researchers explore the potential of different types of stem cells to slow MS activity and to repair damage to the nervous system. One area of stem cell therapy that has shown real success in treating MS is autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT). It has been tested more than any other kind of stem cell therapy, and uses the patient’s own stem cells.
The aim of AHSCT is to replace or reboot the body’s immune system so that it no longer attacks the myelin. AHSCT uses high doses of chemotherapy to wipe out the patient’s faulty immune system, which is then rebuilt using the stem cells collected prior to the start of the chemotherapy. The idea is that the rebuilt immune system will no longer attack the myelin preventing further damage.
The aim of AHSCT is to replace or reboot the body’s immune system so that it no longer attacks the myelin.
How the process works
The stem cells are collected and then cryopreserved (frozen) until the body is ready to receive them again. After the chemotherapy, the immune system, and with it the cells that cause the many symptoms, are destroyed. Once all the chemotherapy drugs have then cleared the system, the stem cells are thawed and infused into the body through a drip. The stem cells start making new blood and immune cells within 10 to 30 days. Recovery from such a complex procedure can take considerable time, anything from three months to over one year.
One recent clinical trial involved 110 patients across hospitals in the UK, USA, Sweden and Brazil. It found that AHSCT can vastly improve the lives of a section of people who suffer with MS. The study showed the treatment stabilised the disease and improved disability in people who had experienced two or more relapses in the year prior to joining the trial. During the treatment follow-up period, disability improved significantly after AHSCT.
Resetting the immune system
There is, however, at least one area of stem cell research that could eliminate the need for chemotherapy.
It involves the use of mesenchymal stem cells, found in the umbilical cord blood, to protect the nervous tissue from harm and promote the repair of existing damage. The aim of the researchers is to ‘reset’ the immune system (known as immunomodulation), to prevent it from attacking the nerve cells. This type of therapy does not aim to replace the patient’s own immune system and therefore does not require pre-treatment chemotherapy. Early clinical trials have shown promise that the therapy could offer a low risk treatment to prompt neuroregeneration and immunomodulation in people suffering with MS.
It involves the use of mesenchymal stem cells, found in the umbilical cord blood, to protect the nervous tissue from harm and promote the repair of existing damage.
Another strategy, which is still at a very experimental stage, is to use stem cells to replace the damaged nerve cells and restore their ability to make myelin. This treatment is being researched using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). These are cells which are harvested from the body and then reprogrammed in the laboratory to behave like stem cells. These iPSCs can then be manipulated to turn into nerve cells.
Looking to the future
Stem cell therapy clearly has the potential to be a very effective treatment for MS. Given the cutting-edge clinical research currently being conducted, banking your newborn’s cord blood stem cells now could be the smartest investment you ever make. When it comes to protecting your child’s health, what could be a better way to achieve true peace of mind?
Smart Cells is the UK’s first private cord blood storage company, helping parents from across the world take the pioneering decision to store the stem cells of their babies for greater security of health. For more information on umbilical cord blood banking or to organise a consultation, please click here to find the number of the office nearest to you, email us on UAE@smartcells.com, or click here.
About the author: Shamshad Ahmed, CEO and Founder of Smart Cells International.
Shamshad Ahmed is CEO and Founder of Smart Cells International Ltd. Opening in 2000, Smart Cells became the UK’s first private cord blood company – its goal to give parents more access to potentially life-saving treatment for their families. It is one of the UK’s largest private banks, operating across the globe and storing over 50,000 cord blood samples from people in over 70 countries. Shamshad started his career in finance and foreign exchange at Citibank before moving over to the world of clinical trials. He holds a BA from Nottingham Trent University, and he has been a member of the Young President’s Organization since 2008 – having served on the board for a number of those years.