British media are reporting a significant development in the use of ethical, non-embryonic stem cells to treat patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) and, perhaps, other auto-immune diseases.
Auto-immune diseases are caused by an abnormal immune response which causes the immune system to attack and destroy healthy tissues in a person’s own body. Such diseases include Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma and lupus, among many others. While the exact cause is not known, many researchers believe multiple sclerosis occurs when a person’s immune system attacks tissue of the brain and spinal cord, resulting in severe pain, impaired movement and in the most extreme cases, death.
The experimental treatment for MS consists of two steps. First, doctors use chemotherapy to knock-out the patients’ faulty immune system and then, in effect, “reboot” the system with a massive injection of stem cells derived from the patients’ own blood.
Professor Basil Sharrack, a consultant neurologist on the study, described the results as “miraculous.” “This isn’t a word I would use lightly, but we have seen profound neurological improvements,” he said.
According to the media reports, patients regained their ability to walk, run and dance, including some patients who for years had been confined to wheelchairs.
But this is not the first time this method using non-embryonic stem cells has been used to successfully treat patients with auto-immune diseases.
In 2009 Dr. Richard Burt, head of the Division of -Immunotherapy and Autoimmune Diseases at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine used this technique to treat MS patients with very positive results. In addition to MS, Dr. Burt went on to use this method to treat patients with lupus, scleroderma, and even Type 1 diabetes, all with positive results.
British researchers have now used this method pioneered by Dr. Burt to successfully treat patients with MS, showing once again that when it comes to actually providing real therapeutic benefits for patients, the ethical, non-embryonic stem cells are leading the way.
Gene Tarne is Senior Analyst for the Charlotte Lozier Institute.