Immune system 'reboot' can halt MS, say doctors
A multiple sclerosis treatment which "resets" the immune system has been found to "freeze" progression of the disease in nearly half of patients, according to scientists.
A study led by Imperial College London found 46pc of patients who underwent treatment did not suffer a worsening of their condition for five years.
The treatment could give hope to people affected by multiple sclerosis (MS), for which there is currently no cure.
The disease is caused by the immune system malfunctioning and mistakenly attacking nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
It leads to problems with movement, vision, balance and speech.
The treatment, autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT), was given to patients with advanced forms of the disease who had failed to respond to other medications.
A similar approach has been trialled on people with certain forms of cancer, with encouraging early results.
"We previously knew this treatment reboots or resets the immune system but we didn't know how long the benefits lasted," said Dr Paolo Muraro, the new study's lead author.
"We've shown we can 'freeze' a patient's disease for up to five years."
The researchers noted, however, that the nature of the treatment, which involves aggressive chemotherapy, carried "significant risks". The chemotherapy deactivates the immune system for a short period of time, which can lead to greater risk of infection - of the 281 patients who received AHSCT, eight died within 100 days of treatment.
The treatment works by destroying the immune cells responsible for attacking the nervous system. Patients were given a drug which encourages stem cells to move from the bone marrow into the bloodstream, where they were removed from the body.
High-dose chemotherapy was then administered to kill all immune cells, before the patient's own stem cells were put back into the body to "reset" the immune system. (© Daily Telegraph London)