MS Treatment that Reboots Immune System Featured on BBC Panorama

Patricia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patricia Silva, PhD |

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A recent BBC Panorama program titled “Can you stop my Multiple Sclerosis?” featured a ground-breaking treatment for select patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) that has been developed at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals in the United Kingdom.

The program tells the stories of four patients, each with a diagnosis of relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), who underwent the therapy. Called autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT), the treatment involves the transplantation of multipotent hematopoietic stem cells derived from the patient’s own bone marrow. It is autologous because it relies on the patient’s own stem cells.

The pioneering treatment requires that the patient’s immune system be destroyed through chemotherapy before the stem cells are transplanted. The immune system is then restored through the harvested stem cells, which are infused into patient’s blood. Since these cells are at an early stage, they are free of the defects that trigger MS.

“The immune system is being reset or rebooted back to a time point before it caused MS,” Professor John Snowden, consultant hematologist at Royal Hallamshire Hospital, said in a news release.

To date, about 20 RRMS patients have been treated with the procedure at Sheffield Royal Hallamshire Hospital.

“The new treatment is showing some remarkable results in the small number of patients we have treated so far. It is important to stress, however, that this treatment is unfortunately not suitable for everyone. The treatment is only suitable for patients with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis disease who have had two or more significant relapses in the previous twelve months, failed to respond to standard drug treatment and who have had the illness for no more than 10 years. This treatment is not effective in patients with primary or secondary MS,” said Professor Basil Sharrack, consultant neurologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospital’s NHS Foundation Trust.

“These initial results need to be confirmed on a much larger scale and over a longer period. That is why we are taking part in a major international clinical research trial — MIST — together with hospitals in the United States, Sweden and Brazil — which is assessing the long-term benefits of this treatment,” he added.

Professor Snowden said that treatment approach was adopted from that used traditionally to treat bone and blood cancers through “a unique partnership we have here at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital between the neurology and haematology departments.”

Holly Drewry, one of the MS patients who received the treatment at Royal Hallamshire Hospital, told the BBC program that she dreamed of being able to walk to shops with her daughter Isla. Now, thanks to the treatment, that dream has become real. “It’s been amazing. I got my life and my independence back and the future is bright again in terms of being a mum and doing everything with Isla,” she said.

In the two years since her treatment, Ms. Drewry has  had no MS relapses. Furthermore, the program reported that there is currently no evidence of active disease on her scans.

MS causes a person’s immune system to attack nerve fibers and their lining in the brain and spinal cord. An estimated 100,000 people have the disease in the U.K.