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Experimental Stem Cell Therapy Shows Promise In Multiple Sclerosis

BOSTON (CBS) -- An experimental treatment for multiple sclerosis is showing promise. A new study finds a single stem cell transplant could stop or delay symptoms better than some medications.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the myelin or protective covering around nerve cells. Current drugs used to treat MS can have serious side effects, can be expensive and have varying degrees of success.

In a small clinical trial of out of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, researchers found that while most patients on standard therapy had progression of their disease over five years, the vast majority of patients who underwent the stem cell transplant did not.

During a transplant, a patient's own stem cells are removed, the patient is given powerful drugs to wipe out the immune system and then their stem cells are returned to build a new immune system.

A stem cell transplant can itself can have serious side effects and the patients in this trial had an aggressive remitting-relapsing disease in whom standard medications were not working. So this treatment would not be for everyone, but doctors are encouraged by the results.

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