Stem cell study: positive results for relapsing remitting MS

Published date: 07 Jan 2015 at 9:40AM

Treating people with relapsing remitting MS with stem cell transplantation therapy might help prevent relapses and prevent disability progression, according to a small clinical trial carried out in the US.

The HALT-MS trial

In MS, the immune system damages myelin, the protein that protects nerve cells and helps them to send messages around the body. The HALT-MS trial, a phase 2 (mid-stage) trial was designed to try and ‘reset’ the immune system in people with relapsing remitting MS so that it no longer damages myelin.

In this trial, haematopoietic stem cells were taken from the blood of 25 people with relapsing remitting MS before they underwent a high dose chemotherapy treatment which clears the body of immune cells. The participants were then given back their own stem cells in order to re-establish the immune system.


The interim results of this 5-year study reported that 3 years after stem cell transplantation:

  • 78 per cent of participants were described as ‘event-free’ - meaning they had not experienced a relapse, their levels of disability were unchanged and they had not gained new lesions
  • 91 per cent of participants did not show any worsening of disability
  • 86 per cent of participants had not experienced a clinical relapse

The researchers, publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology, also found that participants reported improvements in their quality of life.

What needs to happen next

While these results are extremely promising, participants experienced a number of side-effects associated with this type of strong immunosuppression therapy, including infections and gastrointestinal illnesses.

Dr Emma Gray, Acting Head of Biomedical Research at the MS Society said:

“We’re delighted to see positive results from this trial published. Longer-term follow up and larger clinical trials of this type of treatment are now essential to definitively prove safety and to see if the benefit is sustained.

While this is encouraging news, it is important to understand there are no licensed stem cell therapies anywhere in the world for MS.

Therefore we would not recommend anyone seek stem cell treatment for MS outside of a properly regulated clinical trial.  The risks may not be fully known and it could be dangerous.”

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