Getting personal with a promising treatment approach to MS

Multiple sclerosis is a deeply personal disease. No two people experience MS in exactly the same way, and while the underlying autoimmune event that attacks myelin is consistently at the core of the MS disease process, the signs, symptoms, and progression of the disease can vary enormously from person to person.

In the same vein, every person living with MS responds to treatments in her or his own way. A little over twenty years ago, there were no therapies available that could alter the course of the disease and reduce the number of relapses and brain lesions; today, 11 disease-modifying therapies are approved for relapsing-remitting MS in Canada with several others in the pipeline. A wide selection of disease-modifying therapies is ideal in that it means more options that can manage the individual needs of people living with MS. Despite the crucial advancements in treatment options for MS, some people do not respond to the treatments that are available, which again speaks to the varying nature of the disease.

Jennifer Molson, a participants in the Canadian BMT Trial (Credit: The Ottawa Hospital)

Jennifer Molson, a participants in the Canadian BMT Trial (Credit: The Ottawa Hospital)

Ongoing research is helping to expand the arsenal of treatment options for MS, while placing greater emphasis on a more personalized approach to treating the disease. The publication of the results from the Canadian Bone Marrow Transplantation (BMT) Trial in The Lancet represents the culmination of an extensive and collaborative effort funded by the MS Society of Canada’s affiliated Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation (MSSRF) to identify a potential treatment for MS involving stem cells. The trial involved a procedure in which selected volunteers living with MS were given high-dose chemotherapy to dismantle the disease-causing immune system, followed by transfusion of their own stem cells to rebuild a healthy immune system that no longer attacks myelin. Given the risks associated with the procedure, individuals who were selected for the trial were those experiencing highly aggressive, inflammatory relapsing-remitting MS that did not respond to available treatments.

The study, titled “Immunoablation and autologous haemopoietic stem-cell transplantation for aggressive multiple sclerosis: a multicentre single-group phase 2 trial”, was led by Drs. Harry Atkins and Mark Freedman at The Ottawa Hospital. Drs. Atkins and Freedman noticed that, following transplantation of the stem cells, the participants showed remarkable improvements in disease course which were maintained over a long period of time. These improvements included the absence of new relapses and inflammatory brain lesions and, in some cases, lasting recovery of function.

The findings from the Canadian BMT Trial represent an important breakthrough in research exploring cell-based therapies for MS. The trial is the only one of its kind in Canada, and although there are have been other stem cell trials using similar techniques conducted abroad, the Canadian BMT Trial boasts the longest follow-up period of any stem cell trial in MS to date, in turn providing a long-term window into the benefits of this procedure. Some of the accompanying studies that branched out from the Canadian BMT Trial provided additional insights into why trial participants might have experienced improvements. These included a study that described the influence of the procedure on preventing disease-causing immune cells called Th17 cells from becoming re-established in the rebuilt immune system, and another that captured detailed imaging scans that mapped out how myelin was being repaired. The publication of these findings in a respected medical journal will likely serve to heighten the awareness surrounding stem cell therapies for MS now that data about the procedure’s efficacy is accepted by the medical community.

What does this mean for people living with MS? While the stem cell treatment is intended for a select group of people with active MS disease, it adds to the growing list of options that are available for different types of MS, which is a positive step towards personalized disease management. Ongoing MS clinical trials around the world involving hematopoietic stem cells may help to address a number of remaining questions, such as, “can the procedure provide further benefits to more people with other types of MS”, or “Is there an alternative version of the procedure that is less risky, but still effective?”

Ultimately, the results of the Canadian BMT trial are exciting because they position stem cells paired with dismantling the disease-causing immune system as a potential treatment option for people living with aggressive, highly active MS who would be otherwise unlikely to benefit from existing disease modifying therapies. The risks associated with this particular chemotherapy regimen remain an important factor in deciding who can undergo the treatment, but the good news is there is still a host of highly efficacious treatment options for relapsing-remitting MS, and a number of promising candidates in development for progressive MS. Additionally, Dr. Freedman continues to lead MESCAMS, a clinical trial looking at a different type of stem cell treatment that does not involve chemotherapy. Results of this work have the potential to make stem cell-based treatments both safer and more accessible to people living with MS.

One person who participated in the Canadian BMT trial and whose story serves as a beacon of hope for certain people living with MS is Jennifer Molson. After being diagnosed with an aggressive form of MS at the age of 21, Jennifer’s disability began to rapidly mount and she went from being a healthy, active adult to being unable to work and relying on others to help her carry out everyday tasks. Dr. Freedman, who also happened to be her neurologist at the time, suggested that Jennifer undergo the chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation procedure as part of the trial. Although Jennifer recounts that her recovery from the procedure was slow and difficult, today she is nearly free of her MS symptoms: she downhill skis and walks in high-heels, works full time and is living her life to its fullest potential. Watch the video below to hear about Jennifer’s remarkable personal journey.


16 thoughts on “Getting personal with a promising treatment approach to MS

  1. Russell Bailey

    I am 36 and was diagnosed at 23.
    I had no issues until a few years ago.
    I’ve had DBS for my tremors. My wife left me because of my issues .
    I am very interested in finding out more.

    1. ferne

      I am so sorry about your wife.
      That is whar MY husband did to me adter making sure I had to shoulder the evil traits that let him He never signed up for MS.
      You are likly not losing much other I am sure you will have met some wonderful new people in your new and exciting life.

  2. Maria

    Dear Dr. Karen Lee,

    I am so amazed to read your post and even hard to believe it is true. My mother has an agressieve form of MS, studies like this one gives us so much hope for an end to this disease.
    We live in Europe, and was wondering if it will come this side.
    Thank you so much for everything.

    1. drkarenlee Post author

      Hi Maria,

      Thanks for your question. There have been a number of IAHSCT studies conducted in locations in Europe, including Greece, Sweden, and Italy, and a small number of people have been treated at accredited centres outside of a clinical trial setting in certain regions, such as the UK. Please consult your local MS society for more information about studies being conducted close to where you live, and ask your mother to talk to her neurologist to see if she meets the eligibility criteria for the study (if available) and to discuss the risks of this procedure.

      Dr. K

  3. Natalie Ryckman

    I recognize myself in the progression of Jennifer Mplson’s MS, according to y neurologist I have a agressive type of MS . I was diagnosed in 2005, was skiing, mountain biking, jogging. In 2010 I started walking with a cane, then a walker and today I frequently use a Wheelchair . My last hope relies within the stem cells studies. I often ask myself how can I be part of a study ? It’s very difficult emotionally and psychologically to feel trap in a non-cooparative body. I want/need to be a “mother” to my 12 year old daughter, I don’t want her to have to come visit me in a nursing home or worst to have to take care of me ! Can I hope for the stem cell treatment ? Which door do I need to knock on ?

    1. drkarenlee Post author

      Hi Natalie,

      Thank you for sharing your story. If you are interested in exploring this treatment option, the next step would be to talk with your neurologist about your available options. Your neurologist and health care team can offer you information about the benefits and risks associated with a given treatment such as this one, while taking into account your individual experiences and current disease status.

      Dr. K

  4. ferne

    Dr Mackie insitsin that aubagio is the only and he says he is the doctor. He knows i am going rhrough a nasty divore ye he inisted on calling my husband to check everything i said.
    Where can i get someone to help me please. My husband was married to me fo 39 years and we have joint custody of a 16 year old girl and she keeps calling for help from native affairs.
    But i need a forward thinking doctor. Please.

    1. ferne

      Karen thanks for.gettibg back to ne but now the slecalist tell me I secondary relapsing remiting.
      Now still being divorced and other offspfiv Of my my bio well after she made them feel she was trying ro make sure she is making sure that I still somemoney I ny own name.
      I hear I was a bad wife.
      My phone is 403-604-5433 please and thank you.

  5. Cannabis Care

    It is very interesting to see the various therapies that are tied to “resetting” body systems, from this treatment to other somewhat analogous ones that related to gut bacteria. And similarly, beginning to recognize when illnesses are caused by “resets” that weren’t managed properly (example: the data that is now suggesting that antibiotics can drastically change our gut bacteria, and with it all the effects that has)

  6. Era

    Hello Karen,
    Thank you for your information.
    I am receiving my 3rd and final treatment of Lemtrada at the end of August.
    However I want to know opinion of Stemgenex in San Diego?

  7. ferne o'neil

    I have been watching for all new MS discoveries.
    I am in hospial again nurses are treaging me as if I am supid. There is another MS patoent here. Along wkth aged I want to get out of fhis bug infstive, I am on aubagio, and tbis must stop ,my doctors cyclearound and no one has doneanytking to help me and thank father inheaven that my mother passed April 982017.

    1. drkarenlee Post author

      Hi Ferne,

      We appreciate your comment.

      The MS Society offers a variety of programs and services to help people affected by multiple sclerosis effectively manage and cope with the disease. Connect with an MS navigator by calling 1-844-859-6789 or email

      -Dr. K

  8. Justin P

    Hi Dr. K,

    My name is Justin and my mother has recently been given a diagnosis of MS and so I have been trying to educate myself as much as possible on treatments, diet and lifestyle changes that could potentially improve or prevent symptom progression. I came across this article via Twitter and I am curious about whether the infusion of a patients own stem cells without adjuvant chemo therapy has been studied to see if the chemo is actually needed as I have read about patients who have just received their stem cells and had fantastic response and resolution of symptoms. Any information you could provide or direct me to would be appreciated. Sincerely,

    1. drkarenlee Post author

      Hi Justin,
      Thanks for your questions. Yes, there are studies looking at infusion of stem cells without adjuvant chemo therapy. The discovered potential of mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) in treating Multiple Sclerosis (MS) has culminated in the launch of MESCAMS (MEsenchymal Stem cell therapy for CAnadian MS patients). One major factor which distinguishes this study from the previously conducted Canadian bone marrow transplantation (BMT) trial is that participants are not subjected to intensive chemotherapy, which is required prior to BMT to effectively eliminate the diseased immune system. This clinical trial is currently ongoing, however, check out our website on more information about this trial or any updates that may be posted in the future on the results of this trial.
      -Dr. K


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