Pioneering MS Stem Cell Therapy
Decades ago, while working as a Fellow at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Richard Burt noticed that the leukaemia patients he was helping to treat had lost their protection to childhood illnesses and needed to be “re-vaccinated”. Cells had been impacted by the cancer treatment and had lost their “memory” of the patient’s original childhood vaccinations.
This gave Dr. Burt an idea, “maybe, if we could get bad, diseased cells to lose their memory, we could reprogram them with ‘good’ memories and help patients with autoimmune diseases” he thought. His reprogramming idea’s success depended on adult stem cells.
Fast forward to today and after many years of research Dr. Richard Burt is co-ordinating an international human trial using adult stem cells to treat Multiple Sclerosis. Unfortunately there is currently no cure for MS, however, the trial could change that. The trial aims to reset the patient’s immune system by harvesting a patient’s stem cells then using chemotherapy to destroy their immune system. The patient then receives their stem cells back and, hopefully, the patient’s immune system will have been reset by the therapy.
Global MS Stem Cell Trial Includes UK Hospitals
Working with several hospitals including Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield, and King’s College Hospital, London, the trial is yielding some exciting results. Holly Drewry, 25, from Sheffield, is a participant in the trial. After the birth of her 2 year old daughter, Isla, she became confined a wheelchair. Speaking to BBC’s Panorama, Miss Drewry said “I couldn’t walk steadily. I couldn’t trust myself holding her (Isla) in case I fell. Being a new mum I wanted to do it all properly but my MS was stopping me from doing it. It is scary because you think, when is it going to end?”
Holly received her MS stem cell treatment in Sheffield and the effects were almost immediate “I started seeing changes within days of the stem cells being put in. I walked out of the hospital. I walked into my house and hugged Isla. I cried and cried. It was a bit overwhelming. It was a miracle.”
A review of Holly’s treatment has found that her condition has been greatly halted. While she will need to be monitored for years ahead, it is hoped that the transplant has provided a permanent solution to her MS.
Holly Drewry is not the only participant to have received such dramatic results. Triathlete and marathon runner, Steven Storey, was left completely paralysed by MS, “I couldn’t flicker a muscle,” he said. However, he was able to move his toe within nine days of receiving the pioneering stem cell treatment. He continued to make progress and managed a mile-long swim 10 months after treatment. Steven has even managed to ride a bike and walk again.
Professor Basil Sharrack, a consultant neurologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Since we started treating patients three years ago, some of the results we have seen have been miraculous. This is not a word I would use lightly, but we have seen profound neurological improvements.”
Could Future MS Stem Cell Therapy Use Cord Blood?
The trial could result in a new, approved MS stem cell therapy, and cord blood could provide a source of stem cells for MS sufferers of the future. Haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are the stem cells used to rebuild a patient’s immune system after chemotherapy. The HSCs found in cord blood would mean that patients who have their cord blood stored would not need to undergo invasive treatments to harvest their stem cells. Additionally, cord blood stem cells are one of the most naïve sources of stem cells from the body.
The development of a MS stem cell therapy could add another reason to the ever-growing list of reasons to store cord blood. With so many stem cell clinical trials yielding such exciting results, cord blood banking has never been a more important consideration.