Multiple Sclerosis is an incurable disease of the central nervous system (CNS) and is more prevalent in women than in men. If effects more than 100,000 people here in the UK and people who are in their 20s and 30s are the most likely to develop symptoms. In MS, the myelin around nerve fibres is mistaken as foreign and so the body attacks the myelin layer around these fibres stripping it sometimes completely off the nerves. This clearly disrupts nerve impulses by slowing them down as the myelin provides electrical insulation for the electrical impulses carried by nerves. Some don’t get through at all! This can cause someone problems with their eyesight, balance and thus simple activities such as walking.
However, this week it was reported that there is a treatment available for patients that could ‘halt’ their MS. Some doctors have said that the treatment could stop the disease for up to five years. Not all patients are eligible though; it is a high risk treatment and so not all people are suitable; some people may be at too high a risk. 281 people underwent the treatment and of those, almost 50% benefited from it, but unfortunately eight patients died shortly afterwards.
The treatment is known as autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT). It involves ‘resetting’ the patient’s immune system to stop it attacking its own myelin. The high risk element of the process is this ‘resetting’ as it requires toxic drugs to remove the cells in the patient’s bone marrow, which is dangerous. After the stage of the treatment, the patient must undergo a stem cell transplant in order to provide them with a new immune system that does not continue to attack the myelin around nerve fibres.
The trial on 281 people has allowed doctors to predict what type of people would be best suited for this treatment in the future. The results suggest that younger patients with relapsing MS, and who aren’t responding to other available treatments will be the best suited for the riskier treatment, should they decide that it is the best option for them. Although this treatment is not currently available on the NHS, it soon could be if more and more people show positive results from further trials.