Jan. 15 (UPI) -- Researchers have developed a new stem cell therapy to slow down the progression of multiple sclerosis, a study says.
An overwhelming number of patients with "highly active relapsing-remitting MS and moderate disability" who received nonmyeloablative Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation, or HSCT, had their diseases prolonged longer than those who got normal Disease-Modifying Therapy, a study published Tuesday in JAMA shows.
MS is an autoimmune disease that occurs with the breakdown of immunological tolerance against the central nervous system. During the early progression of MS, focal inflammation in the central nervous system causes neurologic episodes called relapses. This appears in the form of neurological disabilities and gadolinium-en and demyelinating lesions on MRI scans. Repeated damage of the nervous system can cause long-term, unpredictable disabilities.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society says that more than 2.2 million people around the world have MS.
According to the study, the HSCT treatment extends the time it takes for MS to progress to the relapse stage.
"The vast majority, by five years on the therapy, did not relapse. They improved," Richard K. Burt, a professor at Fineberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University and study lead author, told UPI. "It's not perfect, but it's really darn good."
Traditionally, DMT-like interferons, glatiramer acetate, fingolimod, natalizumab, or dimethyl fumarate have been used to fight MS.
In this study, DMT underperformed, with 75 percent of patients experiencing disease progression at the 5-year point. Patients who received HSCT, on the other hand, showed only 9.75 percent disease progression after five years.
Burt and his team of researchers successfully attempted the therapy in animals for 10 years as a pre-clinical proof of principal, then moved on to human patients.
"We were patients taking for the randomized trial with highly active inflammatory MS, which we found gave us even better results," Burt said.
DMT drugs are also costly. The study estimated that in 2013, the average price for DMT treatment was $65,000 per patient annually to prevent one MS relapse.
While Burt hasn't done a cost analysis of his HSCT method, he thinks its cost will come in far below the price for DMT.
"My suspicion is in about 15 to 18 months, this will become cost-effective and save money," Burt said. "So, in fact, this could be a win-win by saving insurance companies money, or if you're on Medicare or Medicaid, it would save money for the government."
According to researchers, this is the first randomized trial involving HSCT and more testing is needed to repeat the findings and analyze its safety and long-term outcomes.