20 March 2012

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals leading the way in new stem cell treatment for Multiple Sclerosis


Update 18/01/2016

This treatment will be featured in a Panorama documentary on BBC One 18/01/2016 called "Can You Stop My Multiple Sclerosis?".

You can find out more about the programme on the Panorama website.

For more information about Autologous Haematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (AHSCT) for Multiple Sclerosis, please see our dedicated website

A pioneering and rare treatment for Multiple Sclerosis which involves treating patients’ with their own stem cells after giving them high doses of chemotherapy has been carried out in Sheffield.

The approach, which has only been carried out a handful of times in the UK, is called autologous stem cell transplantation. It involves collecting the patient’s bone marrow stem cells using a machine before freezing them. The patient is then given a high dose of chemotherapy before the stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient to rebuild their blood and immune systems. This in turn helps to control the inflammation that is destroying the nervous system.

Samantha Ramsey, 22, from Lincoln, has recently undergone the treatment at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital after she was diagnosed with a very aggressive and malignant form of Mulitple Sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis is caused by inflammation of the nervous system which disrupts the transmission of nervous signals in the brain and spinal cord, leading to progressive disability. Although most patients with MS have a gradual onset, some patients have an a explosive malignant form, which in Samantha's case led to her being quadriplegic, bedbound and losing her eyesight over a relatively short period of time.

Unfortunately, Samantha did not respond to the normal treatments given to try and suppress her inflammation, so Dr John Snowden, Consultant Haematologist and Dr Basil Sharrack, Consultant Neurologist at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, decided to explore the option of treating her using autologous stem cell transplantation.

Dr Sharrack explains: “A few floors away from the Department of Neurology, patients are treated for leukaemia and other bone marrow cancers in the Department of Haematology. Because chemotherapy targets actively dividing cells, it is also a good treatment for severe inflammation, and low doses of chemotherapy is occasionally used in MS.

“However, these had not been effective in controlling Samantha's MS, and, as the outlook was very poor, we decided to collaborate with our haematology colleagues and give Sam a more intensive treatment usually reserved for severe bone marrow cancer patients.”

To go through with the treatment Samantha had to accept risks of potentially life threatening toxicity, and particularly an ongoing risk of infection. She said she was frightened about the risks of the treatment but knew she had to do it.

Samantha said: “In ten months my life has completely changed. Ten months ago I was working as a Carer of young adults with Autism and I was driving, going out – doing normal things, but then in a matter of months your life is completely different and you’re faced with undergoing a procedure which you might die from but I knew I had to do it – I had to take the opportunity.

“The way the team at the Hallamshire have supported me has been so wonderful. I can’t thank them enough. They treated me with such understanding and care, I never felt rushed, they helped me to understand all the options and the actual treatment was very easy.”

“I was treated on ward L, N and P at the Hallamshire and the nurses, physiotherapists- they were all wonderful - especially Dr Sharrack and Dr Snowden. They have saved my life but I know I still have a fight ahead of me.”

Dr Snowden said he hoped that with Samantha’s now ‘rebooted’ immune system she will continue to show signs that the inflammation and damage is being reduced and that her nervous system is capable of repairing itself.

He said: “It is early days, but from the start of her treatment, we noted a significant reduction in the inflammation on her MRI scans and an improvement in her disability. We will, however, be keeping a close eye on Sam to maximise her recovery.”

He said that autologous stem cell transplantation had been used in MS in Europe and America for a number of years, but has been rarely performed in the UK and he will be sharing Samantha’s long term progress with international colleagues via the European registry.

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