Multiple sclerosis impacts almost 1 million Americans and is one of the leading causes of disability among young people in the U.S. There are several medications to control the symptoms, but until now, there has been nothing to stop the disease’s progress.
Multiple sclerosis is slowly stealing Kathy Miska’s ability to walk.
“It feels like you’re giving up a little bit of your independence,” Miska said. “Right now, I have a lot of numbness in my hands. The bottoms of my feet are very numb.”
Those are just a few of the symptoms MS patients experience. There are more than 20 FDA-approved drugs to relieve symptoms. Many patients are on these drugs for life, providing some measure of comfort but unable to stop the progression.
“These medications are… some of them are very, very effective in reducing the number of relapses that do occur,” said Michael Sy, M.D., a neurologist at the University of California, Irvine Health. “It is frustrating when we see patients declining and can’t do much more for them.”
Sy is part of a handful of doctors worldwide using an experimental, leading-edge stem cell transplant to fight MS.
“Bone marrow transplant offers the opportunity to just completely reset the immune system,” Sy said.
AHSCT is an immunosuppressive therapy that involves harvesting a patient’s own blood stem cells. The patient’s immune system is wiped out using chemotherapy, then the stem cells are reinfused into the patient.
“Eighty percent of the time, patients no longer have relapses,” Sy said.
No more relapses or medication, and the progression stops for 65% of the patients—a potentially life-changing step for millions.
Because stem cell transplant therapy allows patients to get off all their medications, researchers believe this will be not only life-saving but also cost-effective in the long run. MS drugs can cost up to $100,000 each year. The transplant can cost up to $300,000, covering the cost of drugs after three or four years. There is one major clinical trial in the U.S. and another clinical trial ongoing in Europe.