Thousands of patients with arthritis and multiple sclerosis are given new hope today by scientists who have developed a way to alter the immune system.
Both conditions are caused when the immune system becomes faulty and attacks the body. Scientists have discovered that by injecting stem cells, the body's building blocks, taken from a healthy donor into the patient they can effectively transplant the donor's immune system and cure the condition.
Until now, such a transplant would have been possible only by giving the patient aggressive treatments such as radiotherapy to wipe out the faulty immune system before carrying out a bone marrow transplant to provide new cells. But under the new system patients would be treated with a toxin to clear out the old immune system before being injected with healthy stem cells that would form a new immune system.
The procedure has been performed only on mice but the researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine in California said the "benefits are potentially huge" for humans and could be used to treat MS and rheumatoid arthritis.
When the team transplanted new, blood-forming stem cells into the mice, they became attached to the bone marrow and established a new blood and immune system. In this way, stem cells can be taken from a donor and implanted into a person with a good tissue match who has an auto-immune disease, such as multiple sclerosis, so that the new immune system will no longer attack the nerves of the body. First, the researchers need to do more animal testing and then to develop a way to carry out the same kind of surgical strike on human blood-forming cells.