New Israeli research shows promise for reversing the debilitating progression often present in people suffering from the autoimmune disease Multiple Sclerosis. In a small but promising clinical trial, patients were given their own stem cells (not from aborted fetus cells) after they had been supercharged. Stem cells are the raw material “starter” cells in the body from which everything from muscles to brain cells develops. The majority of the participants experienced lasting improvement in their symptoms even a year later.
NeuroGenesis, the clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company that has developed the therapy, tested it a couple of different ways—intravenously and by injecting it right into the spinal cord fluid—to see what was most effective. Spinal injections seem to show the most promise, with 9 out of the 15 who received the treatment showing a noticeable drop in the marker for the disease—Nfl (neurofilament light chain), a protein that increases among people with MS as the disability progresses.
MS is a disease where the body’s immune system turns on itself and attacks the protective covering of the nerves, resulting in many different symptoms, including loss of vision, pain, fatigue, and impaired coordination. Some people with it can live symptom-free, but others suffer from it on a chronic basis. The only treatment options right now are physical therapy and medications that suppress the immune system to slow the disease’s progression or manage the symptoms.
The technology NeuroGenesis uses for the therapy was developed at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. First, a bone marrow sample is taken from the patient, and then stem cells in the marrow are enhanced to promote the repair of damaged neurons. Then these cells are injected back into the patient’s central nervous system, where they go to work finding and repairing the damaged cells in the brain.
Nine of the patients who received spinal injection experienced a drop in the Nfl levels, and eight of them still showed improvement 12 months later.
“We believe that our treatment holds the promise of dramatically improving the lives of progressive MS patients and will hopefully lead to a cure for this devastating disease,” Tal Gilat, CEO of NeuroGenesis, said. “The study has shown that for the first time a cell therapy achieved a very significant reduction in a well-known neurodegenerative biomarker in patients suffering from multiple sclerosis.”
The peer-reviewed study was recently published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.
Next, there will be a larger clinical trial in multiple sites in Israel and the US later this year. Gilat also thinks the therapy will have implications for other neurodegenerative diseases.