Ottawa doctors have developed a new treatment for multiple sclerosis that they say has eliminated the disease in 70 per cent of their patients.

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a disease where the body's immune system attacks itself, causing damage to the spinal cord and brain.

A team of doctors from the Ottawa Hospital are to publish findings in a yet-to-be-determined medical journal on a new treatment that uses stem cell transplants and high doses of chemotherapy.

The doctors have tested 24 people over the past 13 years, starting as an experimental study for patients with severe symptoms who did not improve using drug therapy.

Dr. Harold Atkins, a bone-marrow transplant expert, has helped lead the study. He said a large majority of the patients have gained long-term freedom from evidence of further MS.

"These transplants are pushing the limits of technology," Atkins said.

"We have to use very high doses of chemotherapy to get rid of the old immune system that's attacking the patient's brain … that has a lot of side effects."

1 patient died after treatment

Atkins admitted the side effects of chemotherapy can lead to infection or organ failure.

He also said some patients have irreparable damage to their brain, and one person receiving the treatment died, although Atkins believes the damage was done before treatment began.


Alex Normandin received the MS treatment in 2008 and he is currently symptom-free. (CBC)

"Once the brain is damaged beyond a certain threshold, it continues to malfunction, and the disabilities progress, and so not everybody has had stability on their disabilities," he said.

None of the surviving patients has evidence of immune-system damage to their brain, Atkins said. He estimated about five per cent of patients could succumb to the intensive treatment.

'Treatment a home run,' patient says

Alex Normandin, an Ottawa resident who suffers from MS, chose to have stem cell transplants and high doses of chemotherapy in 2008. He is now symptom-free.

He said he was willing to risk undergoing "the most aggressive form of treatment" because there was a threat of being permanently disabled.

"This was the best thing I could have ever hoped for," Normandin said. "I really think the evidence is there for the type of MS I have. The treatment is a home run."