First results of new stem cell therapy trial announced

Thursday 12 September 2019

While HSCT has been making headlines for a few years, a new international trial has tested a different kind of stem cell therapy, called MSCT.

Researchers from Imperial College London, with colleagues from around the world, conducted the trial of MSCT, which stands for mesenchmyal stem cell therapy.

The last person finished treatment in July, so analysis of the data has only just begun. Early results announced today at a major European MS conference, showed that MSCT is safe for people with both relapsing and progressive forms of MS.

The results did not show a reduction in inflammation (measured by the number of new lesions on an MRI scan) when compared with a placebo. But scientists will now look at whether the treatment had other positive outcomes, like repairing myelin.

What is MSCT?

Although both HSCT and MSCT use stem cells, that’s where the similarity ends. HSCT uses chemotherapy to wipe out your immune system, and then uses blood stem cells to grow a new one. MSCT uses a different sort of stem cell – mesenchymal stem cells, which come from your bone marrow. These stem cells can’t grow into new nerves or myelin cells. But we think they release chemicals that can help your existing brain cells.

Researchers have been exploring the potential of MSCT to protect nerves from damage and encourage myelin repair. A number of pilot studies showed some promising early results and only minor side effects.

The current study was the largest ever trial of using mesenchymal cells for MS, involving 144 people with active MS (which means you are experiencing relapses or new lesions on an MRI).

Next steps

The early results looked at the whole group of people taking part in the trial. It’s possible that some people had a positive outcome with treatment and others did not. 

The lead researcher from Italy, Professor Antonio Uccelli said: “We’re confident additional results will provide us with crucial indications. Demonstrating the safety of this treatment is an important preliminary result and, depending on further analyses of secondary outcomes, we will hopefully clarify the role of mesenchymal stem cells in neuroprotection, and thus, provide further hope for people living MS”.

Dr Emma Gray, our Head of Clinical Trials said: "This study marks a big step forward in our understanding of stem cells as a potential treatment for MS, and it's encouraging that further analysis is being carried out."

There are over 100,000 people who live with MS in the UK, and while there are a dozen treatments available for people with the relapsing form of the condition, we urgently need treatments to slow and stop disability progression. It's vital we continue to support projects like this, so everyone with MS has access to an effective therapy."