The idea of a cure for Multiple Sclerosis is threefold:
- prevention of disease development
- reversal of damage caused by the disease
- cessation of future disease progression
While some of the latest research is very promising, no cure has been found. Our conventional treatments work to slow progression of the disease. We can use diet and exercise as well as other alternative therapies to attempt to control the disease. We can stay out of the heat to avoid its effects. Some have even gone through the controversial liberation therapy.
But there are some with Multiple Sclerosis who have unusually aggressive disease progression. Or they don’t respond well to any treatment. When nothing works for you, what risks and costs are you willing to face? I think that stem cell therapy may be the future of all treatment for Multiple Sclerosis.
What are stem cells?
Stem cells are cells that, rather than having a static purpose, have the potential to develop into different types of cells depending on whether they are:
- pluripotent – this can develop into almost anything except the type of cell needed to support a fetus
- multipotent – this can divide infinitely to repair and replenish other cells
Until recently it has been difficult to identify the right progenitor cells which can develop into cells that generate myelin. We now know that stem cells carrying a protein known as DC14oa on their surface are most likely to become oligodendrocytes, which make myelin.
Stem cells that come from adult bone marrow and fat are mesenchymal stem cells – these cells can regulate immune activity and are naturally drawn to inflamed and damaged parts of the body which they can then repair. These cells accelerate remyelination, protect neurons, and rebuild neurons. Mesenchymal stem cells are attracted by molecules secreted by injured tissue and by interferon gamma production caused by MS. They block T cell proliferation by activating immune suppressive enzymes and generate T regulatory cells which suppress the immune system in a way that stops pathological unhealthy immune responses.
Where do stem cells come from?
There are several sources of stem cells for use in treating Multiple Sclerosis – primarily adult stem cells.
- Bone Marrow – This is probably the most common source of stem cells. Haematopoietic stem cells are contained within your bone marrow as well as your blood, liver, and brain. They are harvested and used to reset the immune system when coupled with chemotherapy
- Fat – That’s right: your own fat can be used to harvest autologous mysenchymal stem cells through a mini-liposuction procedure. The cells are separated from fat tissue, tested for bacteria and then administered intravenously
- Skin – Skin, or possibly almost any adult tissue or organ can now be engineered to create Induced Pluripotent stem cells which can become any type of cell. Eventually these may be used to rebuild nerve sheets that are lost due to progressive MS
- Umbilical Cords – Donated umbilical cords are collected immediately after birth and contain stem cells that are used to supplement adult stem cells when necessary
- Embryos – Discarded by fertility clinics, these can become any type of cell but are not used in any treatment for MS
What processes are used in stem cell therapy?
How stem cells are administered depends on the facility performing the procedure. You may be using cells harvested from fat which are just administered intravenously over the course of several days. Or you may go through chemotherapy to destroy your immune system before rebooting it using cells harvested from bone marrow. Follow-up care protocols are also dependent upon the facility used.
How do stem cells treat Multiple Sclerosis?
The main goals of stem cell therapy are remyelination to repair damage and immunomodulation to prevent future damage. Each person who undergoes stem cell therapy may have a different result. Disability can be reversed, pain abated, and future attacks warded off. This may be more successful in some than in others. If the treatment is done earlier in the disease, results are often better with regard to reversing activity. However, virtually all patients who undergo the chemotherapy / stem cell therapy, although it can be dangerous, no longer have relapses or progression of the disease thereafter. There are virtually no side effects when using an adult’s own stem cells because the body recognizes them as native.
Some common improvements following treatment include:
- improvement in cognition
- almost complete reduction in spasticity
- improved energy level
- decrease in pain
Multiple Sclerosis affects us each individually. As such, repair of the disease by stem cell treatment may be equally specific. If you’re willing to take the risk and can afford the expense, this treatment is, in my opinion, the closest thing we have to a cure.
Have you undergone stem cell therapy? Have you ever considered it?