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Experimental Stem Cell Treatment Might Reverse Symptoms Of Multiple Sclerosis

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There's potentially exciting news for the two and a half million people around the world struggling with multiple sclerosis.

There is no known cure, but now an experimental treatment in Israel may be able to reverse the symptoms, CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reports.

MS is a progressive degenerative disease where the insulation around nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord starts to break down. It's the immune system attacking the insulation.

Medications can slow the disease but don't stop it. Stem cells may be much better.

As Dr. Max reports, walking on a treadmill is a big step for Malia Litman. She had been a top trial attorney in Dallas until she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 18 years ago. Slowly, the disease robbed her of her balance, her mobility and her energy.

"You can imagine how contracted my world had become," she says.

After she fell and broke her leg, she was in a wheelchair for weeks. Her MS medicines weren't really working anymore.

Her search for alternative treatments led to Dr. Dimitrios Karussis.

"Answers for our diseases and our medical problems are hidden inside our body," he says.

Karussis heads the experimental stem cell research at Hadassah Medical Organization in Israel. He harvests an MS patient's own adult stem cells from their bone marrow, then injects them back into their spinal fluid.

"As neurologists, we have never seen or even believed that it is possible to reverse any disability," he says.

Litman says within 24 hours of her first treatment, "I picked up my leg and went, 'Oh my god,' and I just started crying."

She says her speech is more clear and she has more energy, and she's adamant it's not a placebo effect, pointing to a number of tests before and after treatment that show improvement.

Karussis says one patient was even able to walk again.

Researchers are now collaborating with teams at the Mayo Clinic and Harvard, finishing a double-blind study to prove its effectiveness.

"Look what I can do now! It's amazing," Litman says.

She still uses her walker but can now get on her rowing machine. After four treatments, she's reactivated her law license and is taking on a case.

"I feel like I have my life back. I don't care if I walk with a walker the rest of my life. Although I think I may actually be able to walk again with a couple more treatments," she says.

As Dr. Max reports, the theory is that the stem cells are somehow spurring the regeneration of the insulating nerve sheaths that are deteriorating in MS.

However, the course of the disease is so variable that Litman's improvement may not be due to the stem cell treatment. That's why the double-blind study is so important.

Hadassah Medical Organization's researchers are also looking at the treatment's effect on ALS patients.

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