Holly Drewry, wheelchair bound since the birth of her now two year old daughter, can walk again. Photo: BBC

January 21, 2016

Professors and patients alike are describing it as “miraculous”: a pioneering new stem cell treatment that reverses and then halts the crippling effects of multiple sclerosis.

Wheelchair-bound patients involved in the trial are walking again, the disease apparently stopped in its tracks.

The treatment, which uses a high dose of chemotherapy to knock out the immune system, after which doctors rebuild it with adult stem cells taken from the patient’s own blood, is being carried out at Kings College Hospital, London, and at Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield. The treatment is said to “reboot” the immune system. It is the first ever to reverse the symptoms of MS, which affects 100,000 people in Britain, 400,000 in the U.S., and over 2.5 million worldwide. 200 new cases are diagnosed each week in the U.S. alone.

“I started seeing changes within days of the stem cells being put in,” patient Holly Drewry told The Telegraph. “It was a miracle.”

Drewry, a 25 year old Englishwoman from Sheffield, has been wheelchair bound since the birth of her daughter two years ago. “I walked out of the hospital…I cried and cried.”

Drewry’s condition has been reviewed and has been found to have been halted. Though she’ll need monitoring for years, doctors hope her fix is permanent. And she is far from the only case. One former marathon runner, stricken with MS, was completely paralyzed. Within ten months of the treatment, he was not only walking again, but had completed a mile-long swim.

It is unknown what causes MS, but some doctors believe that in patients with the condition the immune system itself actually attacks the brain and spinal cord, causing the characteristic inflammation, pain, disability and even death.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Sheffield Professor Basil Sharrack said “Since we started treating patients three years ago, some of the results we have seen have been miraculous. This is not a word I use lightly, but we have seen profound neurological improvements.”

Patients in the trial first have their own stem cells harvested and stored. Doctors then use chemotherapy agents to completely destroy their immune system. The stem cells are then injected back into the patient. Doctors say they begin to grow new red and white blood cells within two weeks, and within a month, the immune system is fully restored.

Shortly after, the patients begin to recover from the symptoms of their MS.

The research has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

So Happy New Year! And may it be one for literally millions among us without hope.