Irish man (28) to undergo revolutionary treatment for MS in Russia: ‘It's not a cure but it could be the next best thing’
A Monaghan man will be one of the first to undergo revolutionary treatment for Multiple Sclerosis, which will alleviate his symptoms and vastly improve his quality of life if successful.
Darren Bishop (28) from Castleblaney will travel to Russia in July, where he will undergo Autologous Haemotopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation, a treatment which destroys the immune system before allowing it to rebuild.
A Canadian trial of the treatment carried out in Ottawa Hospital saw 23 seriously ill MS sufferers experience a complete regression of the disease and a reversal in symptoms including vision loss, muscle weakness and balance loss.
Secondary schoolteacher Darren is hopeful that the treatment, which is only carried out on leukaemia patients in Ireland, could vastly improve his quality of life.
“I’m very confident that this will work and that it will change my life. They’re never going to say it’s a cure for MS but it’s the best thing and it will allow me a better quality of life in the long-run,” he said.
Darren will travel to Moscow on July 18 for the $50,000 (€44,000) treatment which he has funded himself, with support from his family.
“The treatment basically reboots the immune system and is the same course of care that leukaemia patients undergo in Ireland.
“To put it shortly, your stem-cells are extracted and frozen. For four or five days you undergo chemotherapy, breaking down the immune system, before reintroducing the cells, and building a new immune system.
“I booked myself in for Russia in January 2014 but the waiting list is now as long as 2018.
“I will travel to Moscow on July 18 and check in on July 19. There will be four days of pretesting prior to the treatment. It will be a tough thirty days. The treatment and the months afterwards are quite hard on the body and, like being treated for cancer, the immune system is very susceptible to infections after chemotherapy. But I’m hopeful that it will work,” he said.
The schoolteacher admitted his frustration that MS sufferers do not have access to the treatment in Ireland, despite the fact that it is administered to Irish cancer patients and could be implemented.
“When I brought up the possibility of applying for the treatment with my neurologist, I found myself at a block.
“She advised me against it and we soon parted ways. Another neurologist suggested the treatment was something we could do further down the line, which didn’t make sense to me. Why would you let something get worse before you strive to fix it?
“I will have my aftercare in St. Vincent’s Hospital, where I’ve been working with a wonderful haematologist.
“He is extremely interested in my case and the treatment. He thinks that it’s a disgrace that patients have to travel abroad for treatment that is already in effect here on cancer patients and could be life changing for MS sufferers,” he said.
Dr Harold Atkins, a stem cell transplant physician and scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, and associate professor at the University of Ottawa revealed that the medical breakthrough offers hope for those suffering from the disease.
“Our trial is the first to show the complete, long-term suppression of all inflammatory activity in people with MS," he said.
“A variation of this procedure has been used to treat leukaemia for decades, but its use for auto-immune diseases is relatively new.
“This is very exciting. However, it is important to note that this therapy can have serious side effects and risks, and would only be appropriate for a small proportion of people with very active MS.”