Amy Bowen, the MS Trust's Director of Service Development, responds to Panorama's report on stem cell therapy, and introduces the MS Trust's plans to audit stem cell services
Last night (Monday 18 January 2016) you may have seen that BBC1 broadcast an episode of Panorama called “Can you stop my multiple sclerosis?”. The programme explored the use of stem cell therapy at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals to treat people with multiple sclerosis. The MS Trust was glad that the programme took a considered, unsensationalist approach to what has sometimes proved to be a controversial issue.
In the popular media, stem cell treatment is still often presented as a miracle cure. On the MS Trust enquiry line, we sometimes hear from people who are considering making huge financial investments to travel abroad to receive stem cell treatment that may not be safe and may not be effective for them, in the hopes that this may stop or even reverse the effects of their MS.
As the programme made clear, stem cell therapy is still very experimental, and is not suitable for everyone. However, it could be a potentially very effective therapy, holding great promise for people living with MS. It’s also a long way from being a routine treatment for MS. We still need more clinical trials to understand who is most likely to benefit from treatment, to develop safer treatment procedures and understand what the long-term effects of treatment might be. That’s why the MS Trust is contributing vital funding towards the ACTiMuS trial in Bristol, looking at the effects of bone marrow stem cell infusion people with progressive MS (this trial is already in progress and the researchers are not looking for more participants).
MS Trust auditing stem cell services
We also need to understand the most effective ways to provide stem cell therapy safely to the people most likely to benefit. At the moment stem cell therapy is only available on the NHS in very limited circumstances and the criteria for eligibility varies.
This is why we’re pleased to announce that the MS Trust is working in conjunction with a pan-London group of experts in MS, and in stem cell treatment for other conditions, to conduct the first ever audit of a real-world UK MS stem cell service run outside of a clinical trial. From this audit we hope to understand how people with MS can be assessed and selected for stem cell treatment on the NHS, and what is needed to develop safe, high quality services for the future. We’ll report back on this work in future issues of Open Door.
The stem cell therapy audit is part of the MS Trust’s commitment to working with MS teams around the UK to develop innovative ways of meeting the challenges of new treatment options, ensuring everyone affected by MS has equitable access to a multidisciplinary team of MS specialist health professionals.