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Stem Cell Transplants Reverse Disabling MS-like Disease

November 14, 2019

person in wheelchair

Stem cell transplants continue to yield positive results in patients with multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases, with the latest milestone emerging from Northwestern Medicine and Mayo Clinic.

The research involves neuromyelitis optica, a rare neurological condition that robs some sufferers of the ability to see and walk. It’s a former subtype of multiple sclerosis and is often mistaken for it, but it’s considered a separate disease. In a trial, 12 patients were given stem cell transplants, and “after five years, only two out of the 12 relapsed and had to go back on drug therapy,” said lead author Dr. Richard Burt of Northwestern.

According to Northwestern, Burt pioneered the field of stem cell transplant in autoimmune diseases: In January 2019, he published a study showing that stem cell transplant reversed, slowed or halted further progressive disability or evidence of new disease activity in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. Other diseases stem cell transplants have reversed, according to Burt’s published research, are systemic sclerosis and chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy.

Biomarker no longer discernable after transplant

In the new research on neuromyelitis optica, a biomarker for the disease called AQP4 was no longer discernable in patients’ blood after stem cell transplant. “No prior therapy has caused AQP4 to consistently disappear or allowed patients to become treatment free,” Burt said. “There is a marked difference between a transplant and the drug [typically prescribed for the disease]. The transplant improved patients’ neurological disability and quality of life. They got better and the disease marker disappeared for up to five years after transplant.”

The study was published in the Oct. 10 edition of Neurology.

Stem cell transplants use hematopoietic stem cells to reboot the immune system. As Northwestern explains, hematopoietic stem cells are taken from the patient’s bone marrow or blood; then their immune stem is wiped out with chemotherapy. Next, their stem cells are reintroduced to the body where they migrate to the bone marrow, allowing their immune system to reset.

Learn More About Hematopoietic Stem Cells

Procure specific hematopoietic stem cells for research

This remarkable work is just one application for hematopoietic stem and immune cells, which are available through iSpecimen. We have assembled one of the industry’s largest, most integrated networks of donors and specimen collection sites for these cells. Through the iSpecimen Marketplace, researchers can efficiently procure bone marrow aspirate, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (normal and mobilized), and whole blood – all with corresponding donor profile/clinical data from healthy and diseased donors.

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May the progress continue.

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