Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disorder where an individual’s immune system begins attacking the myelin, a protective sheath that protects the nerve fibers. In doing so, the communication signals between the brain and the rest of the body are impacted.
An estimated 1 million U.S. citizens live with MS, with most of them receiving their diagnosis between the ages of 20 and 50. MS usually includes symptoms such as pain, permanent fatigue, paralysis, vision problems, muscle spasms and stiffness, and problems with cognitive functioning.
Although there is currently no cure for multiple sclerosis, stem-cell treatments have proven to be quite effective at managing the condition. This treatment involves essentially wiping out the immune system and then regrowing it using the patient’s own stem cells to eliminate the damage caused by MS.
Researchers from the University of Zurich are now seeking to uncover the mechanisms that make hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation (HSCT) so effective at mitigating the damage caused by multiple sclerosis. Gaining a deeper understanding of how the treatment works would allow for wider acceptance of the therapy which is only approved in a limited number of countries.
With treatments such as stem-cell implantation, plenty of MS patients have been able to regain control of their lives from the autoimmune disease.
Researchers from the Hematology Clinic and the Department of Medical Oncology and the Department of Neuroimmunology and MS Research at the University of Zurich (UZH) sought to understand how HSCT fought the autoimmune condition and how the immune system regenerated itself after undergoing stem cell therapy.
According to study lead, author, and retired professor Roland Martin, 80% of patients who undergo autologous hematopoietic cell transplant usually remain “disease-free” in the long term, or even permanently. He noted that younger people suffering from aggressive multiple sclerosis are “particularly suitable” for the stem-cell therapy.
The approach works by using chemotherapy to completely eradicate a patient’s immune system, including the type of T-cells that go haywire and attack the nervous system. Once this is complete, the patient receives a transplant of blood stem cells that were harvested prior to the chemotherapy, and their body uses the stem cells to build a new immune system without malfunctioning cells from the ground up.
Martin said that the stem-cell transplant allows the thymus gland, an organ that produces T-lymphocytes, to kick into overdrive and begin “training” T cells to differentiate foreign structures from the body’s structures.
He added that more research would definitely be needed in other countries to show why stem cell therapy is so effective against MS for patients in other countries to finally access the treatment.
Immune system malfunctions are currently attracting plenty of R&D investment, with for-profit companies such as Aditxt Inc. (NASDAQ: ADTX) putting millions of dollars into mapping the immune system so that it is possible to retrain it and tame autoimmune disorders.
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