Professor Neil Scolding is one of the UK's leading lights in stem cell research for MS (using an individual's own stem cells). There was some talk about him starting some early trials this year and he is being funded by the UK MS Society in this area. Here is an article about his work:
Stem cell treatment may ease MS suffering
Irish Times - May. 01, 2007
The suffering of multiple sclerosis patients may be eased by redistributing their own cells using adult bone marrow stem cell treatment, writes Erin Golden
Patients suffering from the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis (MS) may soon be able to get a little help from some of their own redistributed cells.
Prof Neil Scolding of the Institute of Neurosciences at Bristol University's Frenchay Hospital is researching the use of adult bone marrow stem cells as a therapy treatment for MS.
The cells, which can regenerate and reform to replace others that have become damaged, are already used in the treatment of cardiac diseases and other common ailments.
According to Scolding, who will speak in Dublin this weekend at a conference of the Multiple Sclerosis Ireland organisation, the scope of stem cell treatment is expanding all the time.
"In the last three or four years we've found that stem cells have a number of properties that make them particularly valuable for [ treating] multiple sclerosis.
"We used to think of stem cells as an opportunity to replace another cell, but it turns out that there can actually be many more things: we can stimulate a local cell or suppress inflammation in its immediate surroundings, which is very valuable in MS," he says.
As with other bone marrow stem cell treatments, MS patients would undergo a fairly straightforward procedure in which their own bone marrow was removed and then injected back into the bloodstream. The process, says Scolding, works because the stem cells seem to instinctively travel to the places where they are needed.
"When the cells are injected, they know where to go and from there we hope they will help the tissue to repair," he says.
Scolding says his ongoing research benefits from years of well-documented work with other adult stem cell therapies. Doctors cite years of successful bone marrow transplant recipients, who received stem cells as part of the procedure, as proof of the therapy's scientific grounding.
"One of the advantages of using bone marrow stem cells is that people for very different reasons have had bone marrow transplants, and they also got those cells," he says.
"And that means we've got 30-40 years' worth of clinical experience to prove that they are safe and don't form tumours. They come from the patient and go back to the patient."
Embryonic stem cells, however, which require the destruction of a human embryo, continue to draw the most controversy and, as a result, have had little scientific testing.
Aside from potential public outcry, Scolding says that embryonic stem cells are not yet as reliable a treatment option as their adult counterparts.
"Quite apart from the ethical questions, there are also very serious biological reasons why embryonic stem cells at the moment are not safe enough to use in therapy," he says.
"They can form tumours and there is a question of rejection because you are introducing the stem cell into a different patient."
According to Scolding, it will be at least 10-15 years before the scientific community will be ready to use embryonic stem cells as a treatment of any kind. But adult stem cells, he says, are continuing to provide help in the fight against a wide range of health issues.
"People are thinking very seriously about using stem cells to treat Parkinson's disease and diabetes," he says.
"With MS, we're not at the stage where we have a lot of results yet, but it's the beginning of what we hope will be a long journey."