SHEFFIELD, England, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Multiple sclerosis patients given a form of treatment usually used with cancer patients -- which involves chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant -- have shown what doctors are calling "remarkable results."
The aggressive treatment, autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation, or AHSCT, is generally used for blood and bone cancers, however researchers in England, Brazil, and the United States have been testing its effects on people with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis in a small study.
RRMS is characterized by flare-ups of worsening neurologic function that fade either partially or completely. About 85 percent of people with multiple sclerosis are initially diagnosed with RRMS, according to the National MS Society, most of whom are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s.
"The new treatment is showing some remarkable results in the small number of patients we have treated so far," said Basil Sharrack, a professor at Sheffield Teaching Hospital, in a press release. "It is important to stress however that this treatment is unfortunately not suitable for everyone."
Multiple sclerosis causes the immune system to attack the lining of nerves in the brain and spinal cord, causing scar tissue to be formed, interrupting communication between nerves. The progressive condition is characterized by fatigue, numbness, problems with vision and balance, and gradually becomes worse to cause issues with walking and mobility, in addition to other related symptoms.
In the current study, and a previous study conducted at Northwestern University, RRMS patients were given chemotherapy to stop immune attacks on the body. Stem cells, which were harvested from patients' own blood or bone marrow before chemotherapy, are then transplanted back into the patients.
"The immune system is being reset or rebooted back to a time point before it caused MS," said John Snowden, a researchers at Royal Hallamshire Hospital.
The study was limited to RRMS patients who have had two or more relapses in the last year and have not been helped by other treatments over the course of at least 10 years. Researchers are still reviewing data and will continue to follow the patients for five years to track their progress.