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Stem cell study for people with highly active relapsing MS shows promising results

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Preliminary data from an international stem cell study for people with highly active relapsing multiple sclerosis has reported that those having stem cell treatment had fewer relapses and improved disability levels.

Preliminary data were presented at a European conference on Saturday (17 March).  110 people with highly active relapsing MS (two or more relapses in the previous year whilst taking a disease modifying drug) took part in the international MIST trial.  Half of the participants had autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT) and the other half took a disease modifying drug (DMD - Tysabri (22), Tecfidera (18), Gilenya (13) beta interferons (10), Copaxone (8), or mitoxantrone (5)).  Anyone taking a DMD who had an increase of at least 1 EDSS point for 6 months (defined as treatment failure) was eligible to switch to AHSCT.

After the first year of treatment, one relapse occurred in the AHSCT group compared to 39 in the DMD group.  Participants treated with AHSCT had an average improvement in disability of 1.1 EDSS points, while those taking DMDs had an average deterioration of 0.6 points.

The study has not yet finished, and participants are due to be followed up for 5 years after treatment.  So far, on average participants have been followed up for 3 years from starting treatment.  Treatment failure was 6% (3 of 52) for AHSCT and 60% (30 of 50) for DMD.  For the 30 DMD participants who switched to AHSCT, at one year after stem cell treatment, the average EDSS improved from 5.2 to 2.6.

There were no deaths and no very serious side effects as a result of the AHSCT treatment.

"These results suggest that AHSCT is an effective treatment for people with highly active relapsing MS.  It is important to note that this is an interim analysis and we look forward to publication of the results at the end of the study. We know people with MS are eager to get access to AHSCT but it is not suitable for all and we advise people to visit our website for more information."

Jo Sopala, Director of Development

More about autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT)

Autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT) uses high doses of cancer chemotherapy drugs to wipe out harmful cells in your immune system. Your own stem cells are used to “regrow” your immune system so that it no longer attacks myelin or causes inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. We caught up with consultant neurologist Eli Silber and asked him to tell us more about stem cell treatments for MS.