Medical pioneers give hope to woman with MS

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a PATIENT left paralysed by a highly-aggressive type of multiple sclerosis (MS) has become one of the first in the country to undergo pioneering treatment in Yorkshire harnessing her own stem cells to control her rapidly-deteriorating condition.

Sam Ramsey had suffered a frightening and dramatic decline in only a few months because of a malignant form of the illness that left her bedbound and losing her sight.

She failed to respond to normal treatments but has become one of only a handful of patients in the UK to undergo an autologous stem cell transplantation under the care of leading specialists at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield.

Now she is recovering following the procedure which “rebooted” her immune system.

Under the technique, she had her bone marrow stem cells collected and frozen before being given a high dose of chemotherapy drugs.

Her stem cells were thawed and returned to her in an effort to rebuild her blood and immune system which it is hoped will control the inflammation that was destroying her nervous system by disrupting the transmission of nervous signals in the brain and spinal cord.

Most patients have a gradual onset of the illness but the 22-year-old, of Lincoln, had an explosive malignant form, which saw her condition quickly deteriorate.

Before undergoing the procedure, she had to accept the treatment itself was potentially life threatening, particularly due to an ongoing risk of infection.

She admitted she was frightened about the risks but knew she had to do it.

“In 10 months my life has completely changed. Ten months ago I was working as a carer of young adults with autism and I was driving, going out – doing normal things, but then in a matter of months your life is completely different and you’re faced with undergoing a procedure which you might die from but I knew I had to do it – I had to take the opportunity,” she said.

“The way the team at the Hallamshire have supported me has been so wonderful. I can’t thank them enough. They treated me with such understanding and care, I never felt rushed, they helped me to understand all the options and the actual treatment was very easy.

“They have saved my life but I know I still have a fight ahead of me.”

Consultant neurologist Basil Sharrack said chemotherapy drugs were used on patients with leukaemia and other bone marrow cancers and were also a good treatment for severe inflammation, making them occasionally useful for multiple sclerosis patients.

“However, these had not been effective in controlling Samantha’s MS, and, as the outlook was very poor, we decided to collaborate with our haematology colleagues and give Sam a more intensive treatment usually reserved for severe bone marrow cancer patients,” he said.

Consultant haematologist John Snowden said he hoped that after rebooting her immune system, she would continue to show signs the inflammation and damage was being reduced and that her nervous system was capable of repairing itself.

“It is early days, but from the start of her treatment, we noted a significant reduction in the inflammation on her MRI scans and an improvement in her disability. We will, however, be keeping a close eye on Sam to maximise her recovery.”

He said the procedure had been used in Europe and the United States for a number of years but had been rarely performed in the UK. He planned to share her long-term progress with colleagues in Europe.