Pioneering international research has found stem cell treatment in people with active multiple sclerosis stabilizes the disease and improves disability.

The first ever international large-scale randomized trial into autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT) in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) has shown that the treatment stabilized the disease and improved disability in people who had experienced two or more relapses in the year before joining the trial. During the trial, researchers recruited 110 people with relapsing-remitting MS and frequent relapses on convention drug therapy.

Half of the people on trial (55) were randomized to AHSCT, and the other half (55) were randomized to the best available drug treatment. Disability was measured using a standard assessment tool known as the 'Expanded Disability Status Scale' (EDSS) to see if the disease had improved, progressed or stayed about the same.

The lower levels of the scale (1.0 to 4.0) capture people who are still able to walk but have some difficulties with their vision, movement, sensation, coordination and bladder control. The middle levels (4.5 to 6.5) capture people who have difficulties with their mobility. The higher levels of the scale capture people with more severe disability including total bed confinement in some cases.

"In the study, almost all patients receiving autologous hematopoietic stem cell Transplantation showed no signs of their disease being active a year on from having the treatment and more importantly, their level of disability improved significantly. It is also really important to emphasize that these are still early days, and the patients will be followed for five years."

Professor John Snowden, co-investigator of the MIST study added: "These are significant results and we are very pleased to have worked in collaboration with Dr. Richard Burt and our other international research colleagues. The initial results of the MIST trial show that this type of stem cell transplant can be delivered with acceptable safety to people with highly active relapsing-remitting MS.

"However, longer-term evaluation is necessary and patients treated in the MIST trial will be followed up until 2021. It is important to stress that this treatment is unfortunately not suitable for every person with MS. This type of stem cell transplant targets the inflammatory phase of MS."