By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
An experimental stem cell therapy developed by Australian researchers is showing promise in treating patients with progressive multiple sclerosis (MS), the most difficult-to-treat form of the autoimmune disease.
MS is a chronic and incurable disease which attacks the body’s central nervous system, causing numbness, difficulty walking, paralysis, loss of vision, fatigue and pain. Most patients go through periods of remission before the condition worsens and turns into secondary progressive MS. In primary progressive MS, the disease steadily gets worse from the start, with no periods of remission.
Scientists at the University of Queensland extracted immune cells from patients who had either primary or secondary progressive MS. The cells – known as T-cells – were then “trained” in a laboratory to target and kill cells infected with the Epstein Barr virus.
When the altered T-cells were injected back into the bloodstream of 10 patients, seven said their symptoms improved. They had more energy, improved concentration, slept better, and had improved vision and balance. There were no serious side effects.
The Epstein Barr virus (EBV) has long been associated with MS, which is why the researchers targeted it. The virus also causes infectious mononucleosis, a glandular fever known as “mono.”
“Although this was an uncontrolled study, our finding of a substantial relationship between clinical response and EBV reactivity and polyfunctionality of the T-cell product, of which both the patients and examining neurologists were unaware, suggests that the clinical benefit might be due to the T cell therapy,” researchers reported in the journal JCI Insight.
“Our data add to the mounting evidence for a pathogenic role of EBV infection in MS. Because T-cells access all CNS (central nervous system) compartments, T-cell therapy targeting only EBV-infected B cells is a treatment modality that could offer favorable safety and durable efficacy.”
This was a Phase I trial, where the primary goal of researchers is to make sure a treatment is safe to use. More advanced studies with a larger number of patients are needed to see how well altered T-cells actually work on MS.