Cancer therapy offers hope for MS

Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT)
UK (Sheffield)

A recent episode of the world’s longest running investigative TV show, BBC’s Panorama, asked ‘Can You Stop My Multiple Sclerosis?’ With access to patients with the incurable condition that can result in permanent disability, it demonstrated a pioneering crossover cancer treatment causing some MSers with paralysis to regain movement.

Multiple sclerosis is the most widespread disabling neurological condition of young adults, with approximately 2.5 million people around the world suffering from the disease. Attacking nerves in the brain and spinal column, over two thirds of those have relapsing-remitting MS with flare-ups that cause uncontrollable shaking, weakness and overpowering fatigue.

Under the overall lead of Dr Richard K Burt of Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, doctors at Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield are celebrating remarkable trial results and a massive stepping stone in the potential discovery of a new treatment – a cancer treatment that can offer hope. Only three years after getting an Autologous Haematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant (HSCT) half of twenty MS patients showed improvement in disability scores.

HSCT removes harmful immune cells that attack the brain and spinal cord and then uses bone marrow stem cells (the body’s building blocks) removed from the patient’s own blood to rebuild broken pathways in the brain. Bone marrow is a breeding ground to create new, young red blood cells. Rebooting the immune system in this way prevents further damage.

“Ongoing research suggests stem cell treatments such as HSCT could offer hope and it’s clear in the Panorama cases they’ve had a life-changing impact,”says Dr Emma Gray, the MS Society Head of Clinical Trials. “However, trials have found while HSCT may be able to stabilise or improve disability in some people with MS, it may not be effective for all types of the condition.” With only a few people so far receiving the treatment, there’s still some way to go, but it could approach widespread acceptance within the next five years, as long as financial considerations of the pharmaceutical companies don’t get in the way. With one MSer having gone from being unable to spoon-feed themselves to swimming and cycling, its future looks promising.

MS doesn’t mean giving up on your ambitions, just rethinking how to achieve them. Join, the social network or people with MS.

Written by

Adam Yule (15 February 2016)


A chemistry graduate with an adoration of the outside world and an aversion to labs.

Project leader

Dr Richard K Burt

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