Stem Cells

Stem Cell Trials get green light 

Anyone with an interest in MS will watch with bated breath as an international study into stem cell therapy gets under way

NEW TRIALS IN the UK are to investigate whether stem cells can be used to treat MS. In July, the UK MS Society and the UK Stem Cell Foundation announced that they were giving UK£1 million for three new studies. They will test whether stem cells can be used to slow, stop or reverse the damage caused to the brain and spinal cord in people with MS. Hundreds of people came forward to participate in the trials.

One of the studies will represent the UK part of an international trial of 150 to 200 people with MS in a number of countries, including Italy, the US and Canada. Trial sites in Edinburgh and London will take stem cells from the bone marrow of 13 people with MS, grow them in a lab and re-inject them into the bloodstream. The stem cells will then move to the brain where it is hoped they will repair the damage caused by MS.

Dr Paolo Muraro of Imperial College London is the lead researcher. Speaking to BBC News, he said: “There is very strong pre-clinical evidence that stem cells might be an effective treatment. The great hope is the fact that we are exploiting a biological system that has evolved over millions of years, and harnessing it for treatment that takes advantage of the stem cells' flexibility."

The second study will be based at Queen Mary Hospital in London and will look at how stem cells can be used to treat optic neuritis in laboratory models of MS. The third, at the University of Nottingham, will compare stem cells from people with a progressive form of MS to those without the condition.

Despite ongoing trials, stem cells remain an unproven treatment for MS. MS Ireland does not recommend receiving stem cell therapy other than in properly conducted trials.