Hope
on the
Horizon

Patients’ bone marrow may be key to treating and repairing damage from multiple sclerosis.

>> Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s immune system attacks its central nervous system by mistake.

This attack damages myelin, the coating that protects nerve fibers in the brain, spinal cord and eyes. And when these nerve fibers become damaged, they lose the ability to send signals that help a person think, see or move.

This is why people with MS may experience symptoms such as confusion, trouble walking or seeing clearly, fatigue, numbness and tingling. A person also may have brain tissue and nerve cell damage, though show no symptoms right away.

The approved therapies for MS effectively prevent relapses in many people but don’t reverse the symptoms of MS or repair already existing damage, both of which are needed to treat progressive disease. But there is hope: Adult stem cells from patients’ own bodies may relieve symptoms and possibly repair damage caused by MS.

Jeffrey Cohen, MD, Director of Experimental Therapeutics at Cleveland Clinic’s Mellen Center, is the primary investigator in a collaborative, Phase I study assessing the feasibility, safety and tolerability of mesenchymal stem cell transplantation in patients with relapsing forms of MS.

The trial was completed in January 2014, with 24 people ages 18 through 55 participating in the study. Bone marrow stem cells removed from their hips were grown in cultures to increase the number of cells and then infused intravenously into the participants. They were monitored for two months prior to transplantation and six months after infusion. In addition to determining safety, researchers assessed in a preliminary way whether the stem cells could prevent or repair tissue damage.

“These cells appear to have ability to promote tissue repair in a wide range of conditions,” says Dr. Cohen. “It’s our hope and goal to show that they also are safe and beneficial in MS.”

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