Stem Cells Lessen Suffering for People with Multiple Sclerosis

The redistribution of a patient’s own adult bone marrow cells as a method of stem cell treatment may lessen the suffering of their multiple sclerosis symptoms.

Professor Neil Scolding of the Institute of Neurosciences at Bristol University’s Frenchay Hospital is researching the use of adult bone marrow stem cells as a therapy treatment for MS.

This type of cell is already used to treat other common conditions such as cardiac disease. They can replace damaged cells by reforming and regenerating.

The scope of stem cell treatment is expanding everyday says Scolding. The Multiple Sclerosis Ireland organization will be hosting him this weekend at their annual conference.

“In the last three or four years we’ve found that stem cells have a number of properties that make them particularly valuable for [ treating] multiple sclerosis. We used to think of stem cells as an opportunity to replace another cell, but it turns out that there can actually be many more things: we can stimulate a local cell or suppress inflammation in its immediate surroundings, which is very valuable in MS,” he says.

The procedure would involve removing bone marrow from the patient and injecting back into the bloodstream making it rather straightforward. The cells would travel almost instinctively to those areas of the body that need attention says Scolding.

“When the cells are injected, they know where to go and from there we hope they will help the tissue to repair,” he says.

Well documented work with other stem cell therapies gives his current research a boost says Scolding. Proof backing up the scientific grounding of treatments in regards to stem cells used in procedures is cited in papers documenting years of successful bone marrow transplant recipients.

“One of the advantages of using bone marrow stem cells is that people for very different reasons have had bone marrow transplants, and they also got those cells,” he says.

“And that means we’ve got 30-40 years’ worth of clinical experience to prove that they are safe and don’t form tumors. They come from the patient and go back to the patient.”

However, as they continue to draw more controversy, embryonic stem cells are falling further behind in terms of research. Many people consider embryos an unethical source of stem cells because it involves the destruction of human embryos.

In contrast to their adult stem cell counterparts, embryonic stem cells are not as reliable says Scolding.

“Quite apart from the ethical questions, there are also very serious biological reasons why embryonic stem cells at the moment are not safe enough to use in therapy,” he says.

“They can form tumors and there is a question of rejection because you are introducing the stem cell into a different patient.”

Scolding says that the answer to the fight against a wide range of health issues can be found in adult stem cells. Before embryonic stem cells can be used as a treatment of any sort, they will need to prove themselves. The process could take at least 10-15 years, if ever added Scolding.

“People are thinking very seriously about using stem cells to treat Parkinson’s disease and diabetes,” he says.

“With MS, we’re not at the stage where we have a lot of results yet, but it’s the beginning of what we hope will be a long journey.”

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