An Ottawa doctor's use of stem cells from a patient's body has successfully treated people living with the rare neurological disease known as "Stiff Person Syndrome."

Dr. Harold Atkins's research into the autoimmune disorder causing muscle stiffness and spasms went public in the Journal of the American Medical Association's Neurology publication on Monday.

The article details how the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute doctor took stem cells from patients' bone marrow, put them on heavy rounds of chemotherapy to rid their bodies of diseased immune system cells, then purified and re-injected those stem cells to rebuild their immune systems.

A news release from the institute said this is a method used to treat other autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and scleroderma.

Patients in remission, not declared cured

Tina Ceroni was one of the patients treated by Dr. Atkins and said her Stiff Person Syndrome affected her legs, then her lungs, sending her to hospital 47 times in one year.

"It almost felt like a bone could break or a tendon could rupture the pain was so excruciating," she said on Monday.

"It's a terrifying experience, you become very isolated… you almost start living in this kind of bubble."

The research institute said in a news release that she and the other patient are now in remission and can return to work and other activities they were doing before symptoms set in.

"It's like a miracle to see the joy in their lives," Atkins said.

He said more patients and research is needed before his stem cell treatment can be declared a cure, as there still is the possibility their disease could return.

There are also side effects to stem-cell treatments, as recipients are more likely to develop age-related conditions such as diabetes or heart disease earlier than they would otherwise.