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Significant stem cell trial for Multiple Sclerosis patients

A significant clinical trial due to start later this year across Europe, will aim to slow, stop or even reverse the damage Multiple Sclerosis (MS) causes to the brain and spinal cord.

Researchers will collect stem cells from the bone marrow of patients, grow them in the laboratory and then re-inject them into their blood. The stem cells will make their way to the brain where it is hoped that they will repair the damage caused by MS.

Widely regarded as an autoimmune disease, MS reduces a person’s central nervous system’s ability to function correctly resulting in an assortment of symptoms including difficulty moving, damaged vision and a loss of mobility. It affects around 4000 people in New Zealand.

Each nerve in the body is covered with a protective covering called myelin which becomes damaged as the disease progresses. As the nerves become exposed the symptoms worsen as the messages sent from the brain to the body become increasingly disrupted.

Initial testing in the laboratory suggests that bone marrow stem cells not only repair the myelin, but can repair some of the damage done and protect it against further attack from the immune system.

The trial is being partially funded by the UK’s MS Society as a way to create a standard, proven therapy as many patients over the years have been lured overseas at massive expense to partake in treatments that have no foundation in science.

Dr Doug Brown of the MS Society said, “These experiments have confirmed that these stem cells hold that potential, but these need to be confirmed in large scale clinical trials.”

A treatment for patients is some way off yet. The phase two clinical trial which will involve 150 patients will commence during 2011 and will take five years to complete and assess. Even then a phase three trial may be required.

Sir Richard Sykes, chair of the UK Stem Cell Foundation, said the research was the first of its kind to take place in the UK.

“Given the high incidence of MS in the UK in comparison to other countries, I am delighted that we have at last progressed stem cell research to this stage, which will bring much-needed hope to so many people affected by this devastating condition.”

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