Oh, how far we’ve come since the ‘Victorian Era’ of treating MS

A columnist in the UK reflects on progress in the field of MS treatment

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by John Connor |

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In 2010, I strolled into a new hospital to meet my new neurologist. In them there far-off days, I was indeed strolling — nay, striding — but it wouldn’t last. I was surrounded by an aura of self-confidence that anyone who’s survived the vicissitudes of nearly three decades of show business generates around themselves.

At that point, multiple sclerosis (MS) had stopped me from playing tennis and chasing buses — to flag them down at request stops, not like some irate dog barking as they passed — but that was it.

In March 2009, I’d felt something tear in my gait as I was on my way to work. I’d played enough sports to know it wasn’t something muscular, though. It also wasn’t just in my mind — it was my mind!

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I tried to get in to see a neurologist at my local hospital, but it was taking forever. Fortunately, I knew one personally, as I just happened to sit next to her at my best friend’s wedding. She was a good one, too, as she’d managed to save my friend’s life by applying a technique that hadn’t been used before in the U.K.: She cleaned all of his blood and put it back into him.

My friend had been poleaxed by clinically isolated syndrome, which attacked the back of his brain. Luckily, he never went on to develop MS, and a few years later, he was the one pushing me around in a manual wheelchair. But that’s another story.

Back to my first-ever consultation as an MS patient. It turned out that the methodology of treating MS in 2010 was a stage-by-stage process. Whether you were put on stronger disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) depended on the number of your relapses. This meant I started on Rebif (interferon beta-1a), a relatively mild DMT. Compare that with my later drugs, like Lemtrada (alemtuzumab), which trapped me on the family couch for a month. Yes, that, too, is another story, and, indeed, there’s a sequel. Tuck in.

These days, the latest research indicates that it may be best to tackle MS early with the strongest appropriate DMT. Thirteen years ago, fewer DMTs were available than there are now. The National Health Service started using autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (aHSCT) a couple years later, in 2015.

aHSCT was available before that at some private clinics. Clínica Ruiz, in Mexico, says it’s been offering the procedure for 20 years. Six years ago, according to one anecdotal account, the procedure cost 46,000 pounds (about $58,600) at that particular clinic, which I presume is a snip compared with the medical costs in the U.S. (To be honest, a few years ago, it cost my mate 1,000 pounds, or around $1,300, just to have an MRI at a private clinic here in the U.K.)

The internet was available around 2009. I should’ve taken the Mexican bull by the horns, put on my best Phileas Fogg tailored suit, and leapt across the Atlantic.

We would’ve struggled to raise the funds, and aHSCT was considered a lot riskier back then than it is now. I should’ve told that rotter at the Reform Club that I was going to bet our house on it.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

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