MS patient to take part in pioneering experiment

Eleven years ago, Megan Quinn had just gotten married and was the picture of health.

"I used to run five miles a day. All of a sudden on my third mile, I started dragging my foot and I didn't understand. I thought, I'm just getting old and I'm getting tired. I was 27 years old," she said. "Nothing ever clicked to me that something was wrong."

The diagnosis was multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks itself and damages myelin, the protective covering surrounding nerve cells. With that insulation compromised, the nerves deteriorate and can cause a wide range of symptoms including vision problems, fatigue and weakness. The disease affects as many as 350,000 Americans.

"For the past year I've had a really bad time with this disease, just with my hip not working. One night I woke up and I couldn't feel either of my legs," Quinn said.

"Right now, my biggest problem is my hamstring. I cannot get my hamstring to cooperate when I have to walk, so that's my battle right now," she said.

Current treatments only try to stop progression of the disease. Quinn is about to test a new approach: using stem cells designed to actually make MS patients better.

Stem cells can be morphed into any cell in the body. Patients like Quinn have bone marrow removed and the stem cells inside are then changed into the kind of stem cells found in the brain and spinal cord.

Those cells will then be injected directly into the spinal cord. The hope is that they will repair the insulation and perhaps even the wires underneath.

 

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Dr. Saud Sadiq of Tisch MS Research Center in New York is leading the research.
CBS News
 Dr. Saud Sadiq of Tisch MS Research Center in New York is leading the research.

"It’s something that we have to do," he said of the experimental treatment. "I think we have to take these steps because everything else we have done hasn't worked."

Later this month, Quinn is scheduled to become the first of 20 MS patients to be treated this way. The primary goal is to find out if the procedure is safe, but Quinn is hoping for much more.

"I just want to be able not to be looked at all the time. 'Oh, she has MS.' I don't want puppy dog eyes.  I want to just be the best mom, play with my children, wear the 5-inch heels I used to wear," she said. "I'm going to beat it. I'm not going to let it beat me."

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook

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