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Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence

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Stem Cell Therapy

Stem cell therapy is any treatment that uses or targets stem cells, which are the types of cells that differentiate into different specialized cells in our bodies. Many types of stem cells are being explored for their potential benefits for treating MS. Only when the results of these and future clinical trials are available will it be possible to determine what the optimal cells, delivery methods, safety and actual effectiveness of these currently experimental therapies might be for people with MS.

Although stem cell based therapy has generated a great deal of interest and holds promise, the field is in its infancy and much more research is needed before stem cell based therapies become a MS treatment option.

Different Types of Stem Cells

  • HSCs (hematopoietic stem cells) are adult stem cells found in bone marrow and blood. HSCs are capable of producing all of the cells that make up the blood and the immune system.
  • MSCs (mesenchymal stem cells) are adult stem cells found in several places in the body, including the bone marrow, skin, and fat tissue. They produce cells which repair bone, cartilage muscle, or fat.
  • NSCs (neural stem cells) are specialized stem cells responsible for repairing nerve tissues in the brain or spinal cord.
  • hESCs (human embryonic stem cells) are stem cells derived from donated blastocytes (8-10 days after fertilization). They can naturally produce every type of cell in the body. One concern about their potential therapeutic use is that they might cause tumors.
  • iPSCs (induced pluripotent stem cells) are engineered adult cells that behave like embryonic stem cells. These could produce any type of cell in the body. One concern about their potential therapeutic use is that they might cause tumors.

In the US and in other places around the world, for-profit stem cell clinics are appearing in increasing numbers. These clinics claim to have treated people with MS and people with many other disorders with stem cells. However, these clinics are unregulated and none have provided medical evidence that their treatments work or are safe. A recent study published in June 2016 confirmed that many different types of unproven stem cell treatments are being offered in these clinics. The study highlighted concerns for the safety of people who undergo these treatments, emphasized the need for better oversight and raised ethical issues and regulatory concerns related to marketing unproven treatments for a range of health conditions.

The paper’s findings support the need for stem cell therapy to be explored in the context of carefully conducted clinical trials that can determine the optimal types of cells used, delivery methods, dose, safety, and actual effectiveness of stem cell therapies in the setting of MS. More details about this study can be found here.

Many stem cell studies are being conducted at not-for-profit institutions. Most of this work is funded by Federal programs through the National Institutes of Health, but philanthropic organizations are also involved in funding this work. The most active areas of current research are animal studies that are exploring how to develop stem cells therapies so that this knowledge can be applied to humans when we better understand how to manipulate the stem cells to give the results that we want for MS and other diseases.

Therefore, at this time, the VA MS Centers of Excellence do not recommend stem cell therapy at for-profit institutions but are eagerly anticipating the results of many clinical trials regarding stem cells across the country.


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