The use of stem cells to treat and, in some cases, reverse multiple sclerosis has been a hope for people living with the disease for quite some time. Thus far, the Food and Drug Administration has declined to approve clinical trials in the United States because of the significant risks involved. But the recent success of a clinical trial for the procedure in Canada has renewed the push to undertake similar trials in the U.S.
MS causes the immune system to attack the myelin that covers nerve fibers, disrupting communication between the brain and the rest of the body. The disease causes loss of muscle control, blindness, and other disabling effects.
The stem cell treatment involves a reset of the human immune system. Stem cells are harvested from the bodies of the patients. Then their immune systems are destroyed and the stem cells reintroduced into the patients’ bodies to recreate those systems. As a result, most of the patients in the Canadian study saw the progression of the disease stopped and even reversed in some cases. However, one of the patients died, and there is the rub.
Thus far, Northwestern University has been performing trials using stem cells that do not involve destroying the immune system before resetting it. The procedure has enjoyed some success, but not as much as the version that the Canadian trial employed. However, if the FDA can be persuaded that the benefits of the procedure outweigh the risk, it might be persuaded to start human trials in the United States. Certainly, a great many MS sufferers would likely be willing to take that risk if the biotechnology industry could have permission to test the procedure.
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