How research in Sheffield is giving hope to MS sufferers

Iindependent: Allison Parfitt from Sheffield has had Multiple Sclerosis since 2008;
Iindependent: Allison Parfitt from Sheffield has had Multiple Sclerosis since 2008;
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A campaign has been launched to fund vital research into Multiple Sclerosis in Sheffield. Catherine Scott reports.

Sheffield Hospitals Charity is appealing for support to fund a new research project being undertaken in the city that could help find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

bove,Professor Basil Sharrack and Professor John Snowden.

bove,Professor Basil Sharrack and Professor John Snowden.

MS affects more than 100,000 people in the UK and is the most common cause of physical disability in young adults. It can cause pain, fatigue, problems with memory and thinking, speech and vision problems, but most noticeably, loss of mobility.

The disease occurs when the body’s immune system becomes faulty, instead of protecting against viruses and germs, the immune system attacks the nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord.

Currently, there is no effective treatment for MS and existing treatments focus on alleviating symptoms and their impact on long term disability. But Sheffield scientists Professor Basil Sharrack and Professor John Snowden are determined to find better treatments – and even a cure – for MS.

One of these 100,000 people, and a patient of Professors Sharrack and Snowden, is Allison Parfitt, 50 from Sheffield who has had MS since 2008.

Allison explained the impact this had on her life: “When I was diagnosed, I felt like my whole world was falling apart around me. MS controls my life. I feel exhausted all over – my whole body is tired, right down to my fingertips.

“Some days, every move I make is like walking through quick sand, everything is slower. My mind feels like there’s a fog inside it, stopping me from concentrating or thinking clearly. My legs won’t support me anymore, so I have to use crutches or a wheelchair to get around.

“I’m a very independent person but that is being taken away from me. I can’t even go to the shops on my own anymore, I need someone with me.

“The research going on here in Sheffield gives me hope. Hope that one day, I’ll receive that call to say a cure’s been found. It would be good to know that people in the future won’t have to go through what I have.”

The project will be delivered by Professor Basil Sharrack, Consultant Neurologist and Professor John Snowden, Consultant Haematologist from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals.

Professor Sharrack explained how supporting his research could help future patients like Allison.

“For the first time ever, we’ve been able to reverse disability in some patients with MS using a brand new stem cell therapy trialled right here in Sheffield and it’s like nothing we’ve seen before.

“First we destroy the faulty immune system that causes MS and then we replace it with a healthy new one, grown from a patient’s own stem cells. In some patients it has reversed some of the disabilities associated with their MS condition, but this isn’t suitable for everyone as stem cell treatment can be quite aggressive.”

The pair wants to build upon the success of their stem cell work by trying to identify a ‘biomarker’ – a test which will allow clinicians to predict how each patient’s disease is likely to progress.

Professor John Snowden explained further: “Once a biomarker is identified, it can be used to measure the progression of MS and predict how the disease will develop and how it will respond to treatment.

“This could help us revolutionise the way in which MS patients are treated. Doctors will be able to make more informed choices about which treatment course to follow and when to start and escalate the treatment to prevent long-term disability.

“We will gain a crucial understanding about how MS works, which will help provide new information that could help identify new drugs that could potentially cure MS.

“For the first time, it feels like a cure for MS could be right around the corner. That’s why it is so critical that our research goes ahead.

“No other hospital in the UK combines neurology and haematology in the way we do here in Sheffield – we are in a unique position. We want to get started with our research as soon as possible so that people living with MS right now can benefit from the discoveries we make. By donating to Sheffield Hospitals Charity’s Multiple Sclerosis Appeal you could help create a better future for people like Allison.”

Sheffield Hospitals Charity is aiming to raise £200,000 to support the research project. Anyone interested in donating or fundraising to enable the MS research to be undertaken can find out more at www.sheffieldhospitalscharity.org.uk/msresearch