Doctors have cautiously welcomed a potential breakthrough in stem cell treatments for people with multiple sclerosis. Still at an early stage, early results are promising, suggesting that the groundbreaking treatment may have a “beneficial and long-lasting” effect.
More than two million people across the world live with MS, including around 130,000 in the UK. Every year, almost 7,000 more are newly diagnosed.
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What is multiple sclerosis?
Caused when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the nerves and brain; multiple sclerosis can affect the brain and spinal cord.
Doctors don’t know exactly why it happens but they believe it could be a combination of genetic and other factors. These can include a lack of vitamin D and sunlight, smoking, teenage obesity and contracting the Epstein-Barr virus.
There are many potential symptoms, but the most common can include problems with arm and leg movements, vision, sensation and balance.
A lifelong condition with no known cure, it can sometimes be mild, but it can also cause serious disability. The symptoms can be treated in most cases, although life expectancy can be reduced slightly.
One of the most prevalent causes of disabilities in young adults, it is often diagnosed in people in their 20s and 30s.
Most drugs are aimed at controlling and slowing down the early phase of the disease. However, two-thirds of people with MS will still progress to the secondary and more debilitating stage within 30 years of being diagnosed.
People with MS may have accessibility problems when entering shops and public buildings – and even in their own home.
Business premises must ensure the building is accessible to everyone to comply with disability discrimination laws. They often do so by installing automatic doors.
However, people with MS may also need help to safely access and move around their own home. Installing doors with an intuitive sensor can be the solution to keep residents safe. It acts not only as a safety sensor, covering all danger points on the door, but it also provides a virtual activation button which helps users who might have difficulty in pressing a large activation button or a small remote-controlled fob.
The virtual button can be set on the wall next to the door at a location that the user feels comfortable with. This particularly helps those with dexterity issues and users with walking aids or wheelchairs.
Potential treatment breakthrough
The recent potential breakthrough in stem cell treatments for multiple sclerosis could spell new hope for patients of all ages. Professor Stefano Pluchino, leading the research at the University of Cambridge, says the results so far are “very strong and very consistent”.
The stem cells are believed to reduce the inflammation that causes the disease to progress.
Although some patients experienced side-effects, they all recovered with treatment. The tests were carried out over one year. None of the people on the trail suffered any increased disabilities or worsening symptoms.
Brain scans were carried out regularly during the tests. They found the people who had received larger doses of stem cells suffered less brain shrinkage, suggesting that the treatment was dampening the inflammation.
Pluchino said perhaps the most exciting find came when the researchers tested the cerebrospinal fluid around the brain and spinal cord.
Patients who had received more stem cells were found to have a higher level of the carnitine compound, which is believed to protect neurons from damage.
Currently, the research is continuing until the scientists ascertain what it means to the future of MS treatments. Pluchino has called it “incredibly exciting”, as larger numbers of people with MS are now to take part in further trials.