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Only 2 years after getting a stem cell transplant, half of volunteers showed improvement in their disability scores — a first for any MS therapy.

Dr. Richard K. Burt performed the first hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) for a multiple sclerosis (MS) patient in the United States at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Now Burt, Chief of the Division of Medicine-Immunotherapy and Autoimmune Diseases at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, is making headlines again.

Burt and his colleagues published the results of their newest HSCT study earlier this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Their results show that HSCT could be the first MS therapy to reverse disability. Though the study group was small, the results have experts hopeful.

For this trial, 151 patients underwent a stem cell transplant. First, their immune systems were tamped down using low-dose chemotherapy. Then, doctors used HSCT therapy, involving an infusion of the patients’ own stem cells, previously harvested from their blood, to reboot their immune systems. After a short stay in the hospital, the volunteers went about their normal lives, needing no “maintenance” drugs.

The researchers found that at two years post-transplant half of the patients showed a marked improvement in disability. Of the patients who were followed for four years, more than 80 percent remained relapse-free.

His team is currently conducting a larger study comparing HSCT to FDA-approved DMTs at three centres worldwide.

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