HSCT could have long-term benefits for some people with MS, according to the results of a large study that we co-funded.
After five years, progression had stopped in just under half of the 239 people eligible for the treatment. This means that half of those monitored did not experience worsening of symptoms, such as walking and swallowing, as measured by the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS).
Researchers found that people without significant disability and those with relapsing MS who’d had HSCT at a younger age benefited the most from the treatment.
However, we need larger studies to better understand the impact of this aggressive treatment compared with existing therapies.
What did the trials involve?
This study involved 281 people with different kinds of MS, 78% of whom had progressive MS. Everyone involved had the stem cell therapy between 1995 and 2006.
HSCT is an intense chemotherapy treatment being developed for MS. It aims to stop the damage caused by MS by removing harmful immune cells. The person’s own stem cells are then used to regrow the immune system.
The results are also a reminder of the aggressive nature of the treatment. Eight people in the study died as a result of the procedure.
Who benefited from the treatment?
The study showed that HSCT is most effective in people with MS who have ‘active inflammation’ in their brain and spinal cord.
Five years after the treatment, 73% of people with relapsing MS and 33% of people with secondary progressive MS did not experience any worsening of symptoms.
If someone has progressive MS but is still experiencing inflammation and relapses the treatment may be able to stop or slow this damage.
However, the treatment can’t reverse damage that’s already done. For people with progressive MS without inflammation in their central nervous system this treatment is not expected to help.
Researchers are working hard to find effective treatments for people with progressive MS.
Why we fund research
Dr Sorrel Bickley, our Head of Biomedical Research, said:
“This study is one of the largest to date looking at HSCT as a treatment for MS and the findings offer some encouraging insights.
“There are more than 100,000 people with MS in the UK, it’s a challenging and unpredictable condition to live with and that’s why the MS Society is funding research like this to further our knowledge and find treatments for everyone.
“If anyone with MS is considering HSCT they should speak to their neurologist as a referral is needed to access this treatment via a trial or on the NHS.”