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Health Innovation Matters

Feb 12, 2019

Robin talks with Richard K. Burt, MD, chief of the Division of Immunotherapy and Autoimmune Diseases in the Department of Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, about the results of recently completed clinical trials that treated multiple sclerosis (MS) patients with stem cell transplants as an alternative to drugs. Burt, an internationally recognized pioneer in stem cell transplants, describes how MS patients typically face a lifetime of drug regimens that, while they can be effective in slowing the progression of the disease, often are very expensive. Newer drugs become available and may be even more costly, he notes. The concept of a stem cell transplant to treat MS is “similar but somewhat different,” Burt says. A stem cell transplant modulates the immune system, just as the drugs do, but the result is accomplished with a five-day infusion of stem cells that “knock out” old ones and cause the immune system to “reset.” Patients can leave the hospital after a short stay and resume their lives. According to Burt, about 84% of MS patients in the clinical trials did not relapse. “It’s a whole new approach to the disease,” he says. “They got better, stayed better, and there was no evidence of lesions on the brain in their MRIs.” Burt also describes studies of similar efforts with other autoimmune diseases, including systemic sclerosis and neuromyelitis optica, which have shown good results.