It works for at least some who suffer from severe attacks of MS. CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports.
Cynthia Batley was leading a normal, hard-working life until one day last year.
"I woke up one morning feeling like I had a stiff neck," Batley says. "And every day it would progress like it would move into my arm and into my back and into my legs."
Within a few weeks she was hospitalized with aggressive multiple sclerosis that left her right arm and both legs paralyzed.
The MS had attacked Batley's central nervous system, stripping it of the protective layer called myelin that insulates nerves like coating on electrical wires. With the myelin gone, nerve impulses couldn't reach their destination, leading to paralysis.
"I couldn't imagine living the rest of my life in the wheelchair because that's what I was facing," Batley says.
To try to reverse her fate, Batley went to the Mayo Clinic and enrolled in a study of a procedure called plasma pheresis in which a machine separates the liquid portion of blood - the plasma - and replaces it with new plasma. For a very small number of MS patients, the results are remarkable.
Batley felt the hope come back, she says.
A few weeks later Batley had regained complete movement in her limbs.
"These are patients who had largely given up, and to some extent their physicians had been very skeptical if anything further would benefit them," says Dr. Brian Weinshenker, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic.
"And we were able through this treatment to achieve a rapid reversal in their disability," he adds.
Researchers admit they don't know exactly how plasma exchange works. In this study fewer than half of the 22 patients showed real improvement. Since most MS patients usually respond to standard steroid therapy, plasma exchange is only considered the last line of defense.
"How applicable this will be for other forms of multiple sclerosisÂ…the population that could be treated with this approach really remains for further study," says Dr. Stephen Reingold of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "We simply don't know."
But Batley has an inkling. "I consider myself very lucky," she says.
For her, the results speak for themselves.
For more information on the new treatment, go to the Mayo Clinic Web site.
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