The Role of Stem Cells in the Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis


Stem cells are our body’s natural repair system, with the ability to develop into specialized cells and regenerate to heal immune functions within the human body. These cells are the most effective treatment for a number of conditions due to their healing and repairing abilities — for instance, multiple sclerosis (MS), strokes, cancer, burns, and osteoarthritis. 

For their immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory abilities, stem cell therapy has demonstrated extraordinary potential to manage symptoms and stabilize the progression of the condition. From this article, you will learn more about multiple sclerosis, available treatment options for the disease, and stem cell therapy benefits.

What is multiple sclerosis, and why is it hard to treat?

Multiple sclerosis is a neuroinflammatory condition characterized by neurological dysfunction and myelin degeneration. This chronic disease affects parts of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves that make up the entire central nervous system. In MS, the immune system attacks the protective myelin sheath around the nerve fibers, thus distorting the communication between the brain and the entire body. 

 These Interrupted communication signals result in serious health issues like:

  • Numbness in the limbs
  • Tingling
  • Pain and fatigue
  • Mobility problems
  • Paralysis
  • Mood swings
  • Memory loss and other memory issues involving thinking, learning, and planning
  • Blurry vision and blindness 

MS is challenging to treat because it damages nerve cells that are irreplaceable. Therefore, the majority of treatments primarily focus on slowing or preventing the progression of the disease by preventing further nerve damage that could result in lifelong disability.

Why does multiple sclerosis occur?

Multiple sclerosis occurs when the immune system mistakes part of the body for a foreign substance and attacks it. What triggers the immune system to attack the myelin sheath in the brain and spinal cord is still unknown. However, if these attacks persist and become more frequent, they may permanently damage underlying nerves and the brain`s capacity to process these distorted signals.

The age group most frequently impacted by MS?

MS has been found to be the most common cause of disability in young adults. The average age of onset for the disorder is 34 years. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 250,000-350,000 people in the United States suffer from MS. 

Multiple sclerosis is 2-3 times more common among women than men. This condition can develop at any age, but the age group that MS most frequently impacts are the people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. 

What treatment options are available for MS?

Unfortunately, no treatment option can totally cure or reverse multiple sclerosis. Most of the available treatments aim to enhance recovery from attacks, slow down the progression of the disease, prevent relapses and improve multiple sclerosis symptoms. 

Treatment options for the condition include disease-modifying therapies with several types of medications:

  • Injectables
  • Infusion
  • Oral medications

For managing the signs and symptoms of the disorder, physical therapies may be also used.

What are the side effects of drug treatments?

 Drug treatments are not the cure for MS, and they work by changing how the body`s immune systems work. Most of these medications and drugs lower the number of attacks, lessen their severity and prevent the formation of new lesions in the brain, but none help repair the damaged nerves and tissues. Medications may also accompany numerous side effects on overall health. 

Let’s take a look at some of the disease-modifying drugs for MS with their associated side effects:

  • Alemtuzumab causes rashes, fever, headache, nausea, and joint pain.
  • Cladribine causes headaches, low white blood cells count, and infections.
  • Dimethyl fumarate causes flushing, stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Fingolimod causes headaches, diarrhea, back pain, and abnormal liver tests.
  • Monomethyl fumarate causes flushing, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, PML, lymphopenia, angioedema, and liver injury.
  • Siponimod causes headaches, high blood pressure, and liver damage.

How can stem cell therapy help treat multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis treatment with stem cells has shown promising results in improving the health condition, repairing damaged tissues and their functions, and stabilizing the disease. In clinical trials, these cells derived from fat or the umbilical cord have indicated the ability to prevent MS progression for a longer time period. 

In addition, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have shown tremendous success in combating inflammation within the body, with their healing and regenerative capabilities. With MSCs administration, the immune system can be regulated, and myelin degradation can be effectively prevented. Their ability to regulate the immune system and protect, repair, and heal damaged tissues makes them the most suitable candidate for treating this central nervous system autoimmune disease that cannot be completely controlled with drugs, avoiding their side effects.

Therapeutic effects of using stem cells to treat MS 

Cell-based therapy is a minimally invasive procedure that doesn’t require any downtime. Some of the core therapeutic effects that multiple sclerosis stem cells treatment offers include:

  1. Modulating the immune system through their immune regulatory properties.
  2. Ceasing the degradation of the myelin sheath or neurons, and preventing further neurodegeneration.
  3. Healing and repairing damaged tissues with their anti-inflammatory and regenerative abilities.
  4. Reducing debilitating symptoms: gait and other functional mobility of the body improve, vision restores, fatigue and pain decrease, and self-care skills return.
  5. Extending the periods of remission.

How are stem cells used to treat MS?

For treating MS, the drug based on the patient’s own biomaterial can be applied to minimize the possible chance of rejection. However, stem cells harvested from donor tissues are also an option for therapy, as it comes with proven safety. 

Stem cell treatment procedure for MS involves the following steps:

  1. The first stage involves harvesting or sampling bone marrow, fat tissue, or another source through a simple procedure.
  2. The second stage involves the separation of stem cells in a centrifuge. Biopsy material is filtered for the desired cells, incubated, and centrifuged at a high-speed machine. 
  3. In the third stage, harvested and extracted stem cells from the patient or donor are cultivated in the laboratory. The process preserves the desirable properties of the cells and Increases the volume of transplant according to the patient`s body weight. 
  4. In the fourth stage, activated mesenchymal cells are introduced into the body intravenously, locally, or intrathecally, depending on the symptoms and overall health condition of the patient. The process takes around 2-3 hours, and it may be repeated in a few days to enhance the effect of treatment. 

Parting thoughts

Multiple sclerosis is an incurable chronic autoimmune disorder with the ability to damage the patient’s CNS permanently. MS can be managed with various disease-modifying drugs, but most have severe side effects and short-term gains. On the other hand, stem cell therapy is a promising treatment that regulates the immune system, combats inflammation, and halts disease progression with minimum invasion, long-lasting treatment outcomes, and fast recovery. This may give a chance to return to normal life for those who have lost hope. Have you ever heard about success stories of stem cell treatment for multiple sclerosis?