Manitoba

MS therapy trials have Winnipeg doctor 'very excited'

A new large-scale trial is being conducted at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre to test the effectiveness and safety of a stem cell treatment that could relieve symptoms in patients suffering from multiple sclerosis.

"We all need to be cautiously optimistic."

20 patients at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre are a part of a global 160-patient trial into the effectiveness of mesenchymal stem cell therapy on relieving the symptoms of MS. (Angela Johnston/CBC)

A new large-scale trial is being conducted at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre to test the effectiveness and safety of a stem cell treatment that could relieve symptoms in patients suffering from multiple sclerosis. 

The treatment involves mesenchymal stem cells, which are not the commonly-known cells that build up the immune system, but instead mesenchymal stem cells produce other tissues like cartilage, bone, potentially even nerve cells.

Dr. James Marriott, the principal investigator for the trial at the Health Sciences Centre, says the mesenchymal cells seem to be able to influence immune system in such a way that they are able to reduce the side effects of MS.

Marriott said that researchers have seen strong signals from animal testing that these cells are important for repairing tissue damage which can relieve MS symptoms. 

"That is to some extent the holy grail. If we see some signal of that we are going to be very happy with the trial," Marriott said. 

This trial is the first large-scale trial for MS treatment with this type of stem cells. There are 20 patients in Winnipeg, with an additional 20 in Ottawa, with a total of 160 around the globe, with the main partners for the research being located in Europe.

The primary goal of the trial is to confirm the safety of the treatment, with researchers monitoring how the patients are feeling and watching how their MRI scans change over time.

This treatment, unlike typical stem cell treatment, does not require chemotherapy or radiation before stem cells are administered Marriott told CBC's Information Radio. 

"We all need to be cautiously optimistic. With a therapy like this, which is a very cutting-edge trial, it's very new, we hope we're going to see what we want to see and what the people affected by MS themselves certainly want to see, but we need to be cautious with anything like this because we may not get the answers that we're looking for."

Marriott admitted he is "very excited" about the potential of this new trial. 


Dr. James Marriott will be speaking Wednesday night at the MS Research Reception at the Viscount Gort hotel between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. for MS Awareness Month. 

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