Stem cells: a solution to slow the progress of multiple sclerosis.

Treatment with stem cells can help in many areas of health and medical research. New discoveries in this field are appearing every day and increasingly being used to treat blood problems and immunological diseases. For example, in the case of multiple sclerosis, recent research has discovered that treatment with stem cells can stop the progression of the condition.

Multiple sclerosis affects the central nervous system

In this disease, immune cells altered by different invading agents attack the brain or spine. Symptoms vary widely and can include motor and speech difficulties, weakness, tiredness and chronic pain. Treatment is usually directed towards eliminating this destructive immune system, but, as life depends on it, we need to repair it. This is where stem cells come in; they are responsible for rebuilding the immune system after the cells that cause multiple sclerosis have been removed.

To carry out the research, a group of 24 people with aggressive relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis was selected. This is the most common form of multiple sclerosis, characterised by alternating periods of no disease and then flare-ups (which worsen neurological function).

These patients underwent extraction of haematopoietic stem cells, which come from the patient’s own immune system and have the ability to differentiate into any blood cells. After extraction, the immune system was destroyed with intensive chemotherapy. The haematopoietic stem cells were then reinserted to rebuild the immune system.

The results of this research into these patients with multiple sclerosis have been encouraging. The disease has been inactive for three years, there have been no flare-ups or brain injuries and the disability has not evolved. Not satisfied with this result, the researchers continued to observe the patients for ten years longer and the result was the same: complete elimination of relapses and no brain injury in 23 out of the 24 patients (one died due to liver failure).

Although much remains to be investigated and developed, the results of this Canadian research are a cause of great hope for the future, when stem cells could become a solution for many people affected by multiple sclerosis. It should be noted that this chronic disease of the central nervous system is one of the most common neurological diseases among 20-30 year olds.

Currently, treatments are aimed at decreasing the frequency and intensity of flare-ups, preventing the onset of new injuries and delaying and reducing the disabilities acquired. Pharmacological treatment is usually combined with rehabilitation. This should be carried out in an interdisciplinary fashion (involving specialists in physiotherapy, social work, psychology, occupational therapy, speech therapy and nursing) in order to enable multiple sclerosis patients to improve their quality of life and reduce the limitations that the disease can cause in their daily lives.

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