Abu Dhabi scientists take part in global clinical trial for MS stem cell treatment

Latest research involved injecting neural cells into the brains of 15 patients

Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Centre (ADSCC) is involved in MS trials that could lead to a major breakthrough.
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Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Centre is taking part in international trials for treating secondary multiple sclerosis that involves injections into the brain.

The study has shown that an injection of a type of stem cell into the brains of patients with the disease is safe, well tolerated and has a long-lasting effect that appears to protect the brain from further damage.

Published in leading medical journal Cell Stem Cell, the study, led by scientists at Italy's University of Milano-Bicocca and the UK's University of Cambridge, has been hailed as a critical step towards developing a cell therapy treatment for secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS), for which no treatments currently exist.

Scientists from Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Centre (ADSCC) took part in the trials along with researchers from Italy, the UK, the US and Switzerland.

“Taking part in this clinical trial with key leaders in the field aligns with our mission at ADSCC,” said Dr Yendry Ventura, research scientist and chief executive of the centre.

“As we continue making strides in the world of research, further positioning the UAE as a clinical research and innovation hub, ADSCC is committed to the overall well-being of our population locally and regionally.

“Research in MS is one of the key focus areas at ADSCC while further investing in our home-grown clinical trials and research projects like those we currently run for cellular therapies, cancer, diabetes, and kidney diseases.”

The UAE launched a National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) this year to help improve the quality of life for people affected by the disabling disease, which impacts the brain and central nervous system.

Worldwide there are an estimated 2.8 million people living with MS (35.9 per 100,000 population).

Women in the UAE are three times more likely to develop MS than men, in line with the global average, the NMSS said earlier this year.

People with MS are typically given a diagnosis in young adulthood, between the ages of 20 and 40.

The latest research involved an early-stage clinical trial that included injecting neural stem cells directly into the brain of 15 patients with secondary MS recruited from two hospitals in Italy.

All of the patients showed high levels of disability at the start of the trial – all required a wheelchair, for example – but during the 12-month follow-up period, none showed any increase in disability or a worsening of symptoms, according to the co-lead behind the research.

None of the patients reported symptoms that suggested a relapse and nor did their cognitive function worsen significantly during the study.

The researchers said this pointed to a substantial stability of the disease, without signs of progression.

“We desperately need to develop new treatments for secondary progressive MS, and I am cautiously very excited about our findings, which are a step towards developing a cell therapy for treating MS,” said Professor Stefano Pluchino from the University of Cambridge, who co-led the study.

“We recognise that our study has limitations – it was only a small study and there may have been confounding effects from the immunosuppressant drugs, for example – but the fact that our treatment was safe and that its effects lasted over the 12 months of the trial means that we can proceed to the next stage of clinical trials.”

Updated: December 08, 2023, 12:39 PM