Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system. MS is considered an autoimmune disease, as it is the patient’s own immune system that creates inflammation in the brain or spinal cord, which breaks down the protective covering (myelin) around the nerves. MS is unpredictable: It can evolve rapidly or slowly with attacks that are infrequent or steadily increasing, but eventually, the regenerative capacity of the cells that contain myelin ceases, leading to loss of motor skills and/or brain function, and eventually to permanent disability and death. MS is generally treated with drugs that slow the progression of the disease or reduce symptoms, but there is no cure.
Currently there are no Health Canada or FDA approved stem cell treatments available for multiple sclerosis, although there are several areas of active investigation, which include early stage clinical trials. Researchers are looking at hematopoietic (blood) stem cell transplants as one possible way to reset the immune system, and although this is a very aggressive therapy, it has shown some promising results. Other areas of active research include the use of stem cells to repair or even replace the damaged parts of the nervous system. The best approach may depend on the version of the disease affecting each patient.