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Published on Nov 22, 2017
Stem cells are part of the body’s normal repair system which replaces damaged or dying cells where possible. Stem cells are unspecialised as they haven’t developed to carry out a particular function yet. Each stem cell has the potential to develop into one of a number of different cell types depending on the body’s needs at a particular time, such as becoming a nerve cell, a red blood cell or a heart muscle cell. Once they’ve undergone this change they’re known as specialised cells and they can’t go on to change again.
Researchers are exploring whether it’s possible for stem cells to become cell types which could slow MS disease activity, repair existing damage or replace faulty parts of the immune system or nervous system. Although stem cell therapy is routinely used for conditions such as cancer of the blood (leukaemia), it’s still largely seen as an experimental treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS).
The most studied type of stem cell therapy for MS is autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (often shortened to AHSCT, ASCT or HSCT). This uses your own stem cells, which are collected and then injected back into your body. Early results have been encouraging and understanding how best to treat people with stem cells is improving.
AHSCT has not been formally assessed for use in the NHS outside clinical trials, but a small number of centres have begun to provide it on the NHS under specific circumstances to a very small number of people. People accepted for treatment generally either have a very aggressive type of MS or continue to have relapses even after trying one or more disease modifying drugs.