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Holly Drewry was in a wheelchair as a result of her condition before she was part of a small group of patients given a new treatment at the city’s Royal Hallamshire Hospital. Within weeks, the 25-year-old was walking again – and now doctors are preparing to step up an international trial of the treatment to ‘reboot’ patients’ immune systems in the hope it can help MS sufferers across the world.
Holly said she was first diagnosed when she was 21, after starting to suffer from blurred vision and numbness in one side of her legs.
Doctors asked her to do a test involving touching her nose with her hand and she was unable to do it.
She was referred to the Royal Hallamshire, where her MS was diagnosed. Holly, from Norton, was initially on a course of steroids, but says her symptoms started to clear temporarily after she fell pregnant with daughter Isla, now aged two.
However shortly after giving birth, she had a relapse. Her condition grew more serious and she needed to start using a wheelchair for several months. A number of existing treatments were tried, but nothing improved Holly’s condition before doctors suggested a pioneering treatment, in which patients received transplants of their own stem cells.
She had the stem cell treatment in May 2013 and was able to walk out of hospital – with just the support of one crutch – a few days later. Almost two years after her treatment, Holly is yet to have a relapse and hopes her treatment will prove to be a permanent success.
Although no-one understands the exact cause of this illness, doctors believe that in susceptible individuals something triggers the immune system to attack the brain and spinal cord, leading to inflammation and degeneration resulting in disability.
The treatment aims to reverse this mechanism by ‘rebooting’ the immune system.
Chemotherapy is used to destroy the dysfunctional immune system, which is then rebuilt with stem cells taken from the patient’s own blood.
The harvested stem cells are then infused back into the body where they grow new blood and bone marrow cells after two to three weeks. Tests have allowed one patient, who had been blind, to be able to see again.
Professor Basil Sharrack, a consultant neurologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Since we started using this treatment in a small number of patients with severe inflammatory disease who had failed to respond to standard therapies, some of the results that we have seen have been very encouraging.
About 24 patients in Sheffield and London have been given the treatment since 2012 as part of a small-scale study.
“But the next stage of the process will now be a larger randomised controlled trial, which suitable patients are now being recruited for.
Sheffield is the only UK site involved in the next stage of the trial, which is being led by doctors in Chicago, Illinois.
The trial is expected to run until December 2016 and will publish its results about a year later – for details, email [email protected]
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