The discovered potential of mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) in treating Multiple Sclerosis (MS) has culminated in the launch of MESCAMS (MEsenchymal Stem cell therapy for CAnadian MS patients), a phase II clinical trial that is funded in part by the MS Scientific Research Foundation, Research Manitoba and A&W Food Services of Canada Inc. Spearheaded by Dr. Mark Freedman (Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, University of Ottawa), principal investigator (PI) at the Ottawa site and Dr. James Marriott (University of Manitoba), PI at the Manitoba site, MESCAMS is part of an international mesenchymal stem cell research effort encompassing nine countries.
The aim of this study is to determine if treatment with autologous (originating from the same person receiving treatment) MSC in people with MS is safe, can reduce harmful inflammation in the brain, and possibly contribute to repair of the central nervous system.
The MESCAMS study is the first Canadian clinical trial evaluating the safety and efficacy of MSC as a treatment for multiple sclerosis. This marks an important step forward in MS research and treatment, as early experiments with stem cell therapies have shown encouraging results. One major factor which distinguishes this study from the previously conducted Canadian bone marrow transplantation (BMT) trial is that participants are not subjected to intensive chemotherapy, which is required prior to BMT to effectively eliminate the diseased immune system.
MSC therapy, on the other hand, works by subduing the harmful immune cells that drive MS, and so the researchers anticipate that the procedure will carry a lower risk to participants, since no chemotherapy is required and the MSC have the potential of controlling inflammation in the absence of other MS medications. As well, the study design uses autologous MSC, in which each participant receives their own stem cells, thus diminishing the risk of the participant’s immune system rejecting the cells.
The results of the MESCAMS trial will be pooled with data emerging from the concurrent international MSC trial, culminating in a rich body of information that could not otherwise be attained by individual research centres alone. The Canadian contribution to the trial is poised to make Canada a leader in researching MSC therapy in MS, largely owing to the seasoned expertise of the lead investigators and other collaborators, as well as substantial investment into state-of-the-art stem cell facilities built in compliance with stringent government regulations. Ultimately, the hope is that the findings from the MESCAMS study will build on results seen in pioneering MSC studies and help lead to treatment options for people with MS.