MS patient's 'careful optimism' after stem cell brain injection breakthrough

One woman living with multiple sclerosis welcomes news that scientists working towards finding a treatment have found the beginnings of a 'breakthrough'. ITV News Correspondent Chloe Keedy reports on the findings

Ailsa Guidi lives with multiple sclerosis.

It affects her balance and her ability to move and makes it hard for her to do things she used to find simple. For 25 years now, all of her symptoms have been getting progressively worse.

Ailsa says another of her most debilitating symptoms is chronic fatigue.

"I only have a certain amount of energy vouchers every day and I have to choose where to spend those," she tells me.

"I think for me the thing about progressive MS is that you feel like you’re at the top of a downward slope and you don’t know how steep that slope is.

"Your worry is you’ll suddenly go downhill and be unable to do anything about that, and that’s why we need treatments for progressive MS." That’s where scientists in Cambridge come in. Working with a team in Italy, they believe they may have the beginnings of a breakthrough.

In those who suffer with MS, their immune system attacks their nerves and strips away the coating, leaving them with lasting scars. Credit: Cambridge University

Multiple sclerosis is a condition that affects your brain and spinal cord.

Our nerves have a protective coating on them and, when someone has MS, their immune system attacks their nerves and strips that coating away, leaving lasting scars.

The question for scientists is how to stop that from happening, and the answer could be stem cells.

We all have stem cells. They are flexible, adaptable cells that can develop into lots of different types of cells. Professor Stefano Pluchino, who leads the Cambridge team, described them to me as "paramedics for our bodies".

Multiple sclerosis has left Ailsa struggling to complete tasks she used to find easy. And, for the last 25 years it has only got worse. Credit: ITV News

His research has already shown if you inject stem cells into animals with a disease similar to MS, those cells will work to protect the nerves and reduce the scarring. Crucially, they will also stop the immune system from doing any further damage.

The scientists hope this is what stem cells can do for humans with MS too.

Together with the team in Italy, they embarked on a clinical trial in which stem cells were taken from a single donor and injected into the brains of 15 patients with secondary progressive MS.

They followed the patients for more than 12 months and found that, during that time, neither their symptoms, their disability or their brain function deteriorated.

Professor Pluchino said that the results of the trial are a moment for 'careful optimism'. Credit: ITV News

I asked Professor Pluchino how hopeful people with progressive MS should be about the results of this trial. It was, he replied, a moment for "careful optimism".

He said: "We did see that despite the very high level of disability, the brain was still responding to the transplant. But it was only a small study, and there may have been confounding effects from the immunosuppressant drugs, for example.

"However, the fact that our treatment was safe and that its effects lasted over the 12 months of the trial means that we can proceed to the next stage of clinical trials."

Even if those trials are successful, it could be a long time before stem cell treatment is available to people with progressive MS.

What we do now know is that the treatment is safe.

That has paved the way for more research, which scientists hope will eventually allow them to halt the progression of this disease, and maybe even reverse it.

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