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Early-stage stem cell therapy trial

An international team has shown that the injection of a type of stem cell into the brains of patients living with progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) is safe, well tolerated and has a long-lasting effect that appears to protect the brain from further damage.

The study, led by scientists at the University of Cambridge, University of Milan Bicocca and Hospital Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (Italy), is a step towards developing an advanced cell therapy treatment for progressive MS, it is claimed.

The scientists have completed a first-in-man, early-stage clinical trial that involved injecting neural stem cells directly into the brains of 15 patients with secondary MS recruited from two hospitals in Italy.

The team followed the patients over 12 months, during which time they observed no treatment-related deaths or serious adverse events. While some side-effects were observed, all were either temporary or reversible.

All the patients showed high levels of disability at the start of the trial – most required a wheelchair, for example – but during the 12 month follow-up period none showed any increase in disability or a worsening of symptoms. None of the patients reported symptoms that suggested a relapse and nor did their cognitive function worsen significantly during the study. Overall, according to the researchers, this points to a substantial stability of the disease, without signs of progression, though the high levels of disability at the start of the trial make this difficult to confirm.

The stem cells were derived from cells taken from brain tissue from a single, miscarried foetal donor. The Italian team had previously shown that it would be possible to produce a virtually limitless supply of these stem cells from a single donor – and in future it may be possible to derive these cells directly from the patient – helping to overcome practical problems associated with the use of allogeneic foetal tissue.

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Image credit | Science Photo Library

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