Stem cell transplantation can help patients with advanced multiple sclerosis, according to the findings of a ground-breaking UK study published yesterday.
The London-based researchers said they aimed to reset the immune system by using aggressive chemotherapy and autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT).
The findings show that the progression of disease can be halted for up to five years.
But the project also found risks in the procedure. Out of 281 patients in the trial, eight died within 100 days of treatment, mostly from infections.
The researchers say their findings justify a large randomised control trial of the procedure.
The findings were reported yesterday in JAMA Neurology. They show that in patients with relapsing MS, 73% experienced no worsening of their symptoms for five years.
Researcher Dr Paolo Muraro, from Imperial College, London, said: 'In this study, which is the largest long-term follow-up study of this procedure, we've shown we can "freeze" a patient's disease - and stop it from becoming worse, for up to five years.
'However, we must take into account that the treatment carries a small risk of death, and this is a disease that is not immediately life-threatening.
'These findings are very promising - but crucially we didn't have a placebo group in this study, of patients who didn't receive the treatment.
'We urgently need more effective treatments for this devastating condition, and so a large randomised controlled trial of this treatment should be the next step.'
Dr Sorrel Bickley, from the MS Society, said: 'This study is one of the largest to date looking at AHSCT as a treatment for MS and the findings offer some encouraging insights.
'It shows that AHSCT can slow or stop progression for many years, and the treatment is most effective in people with MS who have active inflammation in their brain and spinal cord.'
Source: JAMA Neurology 20 February 2017
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