Early studies of use of stem cells in MS required that patients be exposed to high doses of multiple chemotherapy drugs to wipe out their immune systems and then be reinfused with their own stem cells. One in 2 patients died in the first studies, and mortality remained no better than 1 in 10 in later studies.

Current research does not require patients be treated with chemotherapy drugs. Rather, “autologous” stem cells (the patient’s own) are now used. These must be obtained from the bone marrow, not the blood, and then be purified and expanded out of the patient’s body. In one recent study, they are infused intravenously. In another study, they are infused intrathecally (that is, using a spinal tap). These studies have shown good safety, but it is too early to know if there is a sustained clinical benefit.

Patients should be very careful of centers in California and in Mexico that, in my opinion, are scamming vulnerable MS patients. The patient’s own blood is drawn, and following very limited processing, it is reinfused. There is no scientific basis for this method, nor has it ever been shown to help.

Dr. Jack Florin, MD

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