Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory-mediated disease of the nervous system that affects about 2.3 million people worldwide and hundreds of thousands of patients in the U.S. [1] Although the exact cause of MS is unknown, research suggests the disease is triggered when the body’s immune system begins attacking myelin, the protective sheath that covers nerve fibers. As myelin is destroyed, the nerves themselves come under fire, eventually producing a broad array of debilitating symptoms.[2]:

Studies have also suggested people with specific risk factors may also be more likely to develop MS. For instance, people with certain genes or those who smoke may be more likely to develop MS. [3] Other studies have shown people with other types of immune system disorders are also at increased risk. Some researchers believe viral infections may trigger the disease to become active, or that vitamin D supplementation can decrease the risk of developing MS. [4]

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS

Because MS attacks the nervous system, it can cause symptoms throughout the body. Some of the more common symptoms include: [5]:

  • fatigue
  • numbness
  • weakness
  • dizziness
  • spasticity
  • difficulty walking
  • incontinence
  • vision problems
  • chronic pain
  • cognitive and emotional problems including depression
  • sexual dysfunction

Less common symptoms include:

  • headache
  • tremor
  • speech difficulties
  • difficulty swallowing
  • difficulty breathing
  • hearing loss
  • itching
  • seizures

Most symptoms first appear between the ages of 20 and 40 years. Some patients experience a steady progression of the disease, while others experience periods of relapse when symptoms worsen, followed by periods when symptoms improve. [6]

TRADITIONAL MANAGEMENT

Multiple sclerosis is managed on two fronts: slowing the progression of the disease and its flareups and relieving its symptoms. Medications used to protect nerves and potentially slow disease progression include: [7]

  • Copolymer-1
  • Mitoxantrone
  • Dimethyl fumarate
  • Beta interferon
  • Teriflunomide
  • Natalizumab
  • Dalfampridine

Other medications include:

  • Corticosteroids to shorten flareups or make them less severe
  • Muscle relaxants or Botox injections to ease muscle spasms
  • Anti-anxiety medications to ease stress

Physical and occupational therapy are also typically used to help patients maintain strength and balance and to promote exercise that can help battle feelings of fatigue or discomfort. Assistive devices like canes and walkers can be used to maintain mobility.

Many patients with MS also undergo psychological counseling to help them manage stress, anxiety and depression that are the hallmarks of many chronic diseases. Support groups can also help ease stress and reduce feelings of isolation and fear.

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STEM CELL THERAPY FOR MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS

Researchers have made considerable progress in developing effective management strategies for MS using autologous mesenchymal stem cells. Most management strategies are aimed at either repairing nerve damage caused by the disease or slowing the progression and action of the disease mechanisms.

Once injected, mesenchymal stem cells can “transform” into other types of cells as well as promote the development of specific types of cells through a cell-to-cell communication system called paracrine signaling. Stem cells also appear to initiate repair of damaged myelin, the protective sheath surrounding nerve tissue that becomes damaged as MS progresses. [7, 8] In fact, demyelination (damage to the myelin) is one of the primary underlying mechanisms in MS disease progression.

Because MS affects the nervous system, many stem cell studies have focused on their potential neuroprotective benefit. In one such study of patients with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, researchers found patients managed with stem cells experienced “structural, functional and physiological improvement” suggesting stem cells do help protect the nerves from further damage. Patients in this study also experienced significant improvement in visual function attributed to myelin repair. Importantly, the study also found a possible reduction in the size of brain T1 hypointense lesions, so-called “black holes” that indicate brain damage in MS patients. These findings suggest stem cell therapy ultimately may be able to repair what was once considered to be permanent change in brain structure. Additional research is focused on using stem cells to replace nerve cells damaged or lost through the disease process and to replace the cells that produce myelin. [9]

Stem cell therapy in MS took a major leap forward in late 2013 when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a Phase I clinical trial of an investigational new drug (IND) that uses autologous mesenchymal stem cells to manage patients with progressive MS. The clinical trial completed enrollment in February 2015. [10]

Whether you have recently been diagnosed or battling the disease for years, MS does not have to control your life.

Suggested Reading:

  1. What is multiple sclerosis? WebMD.
  2. Multiple sclerosis disease and conditions. Mayo Clinic.
  3. MS symptoms National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
  4. What is multiple sclerosis? WebMD.
  5. Ibid.
  • . Bai L, Lennon D, Eaton V, et al. Human Bone Marrow-derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells Induce Th2-Polarized Immune Response and Promote Endogenous Repair in AnimalModels of Multiple Sclerosis. Glia. 2009;57(11):1192-1203. doi:10.1002/glia.20841.
  • . Cristofanilli, M, Harris, VK, Zigelbaum, A, et al. Mesenchymal Stem Cells Enhance the Engraftment and Myelinating Ability of Allogeneic Oligodendrocyte Progenitors in Dysmyelinated Mice. STEM CELLS AND DEVELOPMENT. 2011. doi:10.1089/scd.2010.054.
  • . Stem cells in MS National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
  1. FDA Approves MSC-NP Therapy as Investigational New Drug in MS Clinical Trial: A Research Milestone. Tisch MS Research Center of New York.

Mesenchymal stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells as therapies for multiple sclerosis.

Xiao J, Yang R, Biswas S, Qin X, Zhang M, Deng W.

Int J Mol Sci. 2015 Apr 24;16(5):9283-302. doi: 10.3390/ijms16059283. Review.

Mesenchymal stem cells in multiple sclerosis – translation to clinical trials.

Dulamea A.

J Med Life. 2015 Jan-Mar;8(1):24-7. Review.

Induced Stem Cells as a Novel Multiple Sclerosis Therapy.

Xie C, Liu YQ, Guan YT, Zhang GX.

Curr Stem Cell Res Ther. 2016;11(4):313-20. Review.

Immunomodulatory characteristics of mesenchymal stem cells and their role in the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

Gharibi T, Ahmadi M, Seyfizadeh N, Jadidi-Niaragh F, Yousefi M.

Cell Immunol. 2015 Feb;293(2):113-21. doi: 10.1016/j.cellimm.2015.01.002. Review.

Concise review: modeling multiple sclerosis with stem cell biological platforms: toward functional validation of cellular and molecular phenotypes in inflammation-induced neurodegeneration.

Orack JC, Deleidi M, Pitt D, Mahajan K, Nicholas JA, Boster AL, Racke MK, Comabella M, Watanabe F, Imitola J.

Stem Cells Transl Med. 2015 Mar;4(3):252-60. doi: 10.5966/sctm.2014-0133. Review.

Randomized placebo-controlled phase II trial of autologous mesenchymal stem cells in multiple sclerosis.

Llufriu S, Sepúlveda M, Blanco Y, Marín P, Moreno B, Berenguer J, Gabilondo I, Martínez-Heras E, Sola-Valls N, Arnaiz JA, Andreu EJ, Fernández B, Bullich S, Sánchez-Dalmau B, Graus F, Villoslada P, Saiz A.

PLoS One. 2014 Dec 1;9(12):e113936. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113936

The potential of human umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cells as a novel cellular therapy for multiple sclerosis.

Li JF, Zhang DJ, Geng T, Chen L, Huang H, Yin HL, Zhang YZ, Lou JY, Cao B, Wang YL.

Cell Transplant. 2014;23 Suppl 1:S113-22. doi: 10.3727/096368914X685005.

Cell-based therapy approaches: the hope for incurable diseases.

Buzhor E, Leshansky L, Blumenthal J, Barash H, Warshawsky D, Mazor Y, Shtrichman R.

Regen Med. 2014;9(5):649-72. doi: 10.2217/rme.14.35. Review.

Mesenchymal stem cells: potential in treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

Tanna T, Sachan V.

Curr Stem Cell Res Ther. 2014;9(6):513-21. Review.

Disclaimer:
Actual results may vary. The statements are not intended to imply that the results would be the same or similar for each patient. Each patient is unique and no particular result or outcome can be predicted or guaranteed. The statements in this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Some of these procedures may be considered experimental. These procedures are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. The use of stem cells is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration to combat aging or to prevent, treat, cure or mitigate any disease or medical condition mentioned, cited or described in this website. The science of treatment with stem cells is in its early stages and stem cell treatments are not considered to be the standard of care for any medical condition, ailment, illness or disease. There could be significant and unknown risks associated with stem cell treatments, as long-term studies have not been performed.