The £10m trial, involving up to 200 patients around the world, will investigate if cells can slow, stop and even reverse damage to the brain and spinal cord caused by active MS lesions.
Scientists in the UK have received £1m in joint funding from the MS Society and the UK Stem Cell Foundation for the UK arm of the trial, which is due to start later this year and will last between three and five years, as well as two other studies.
Researchers at trial sites in London and Edinburgh will harvest stem cells from the bone marrow of 13 trial participants, grow them in the laboratory and then re-inject them into the bloodstream.
The stem cells will make their way to the brain where it is thought they will repair the damage caused by MS – including targeting the “active” lesions, where damage is happening.
MS is a disabling neurological condition affecting the central nervous system and symptoms include problems with mobility, eyesight and bladder control, pain, extreme fatigue and muscle stiffness.
Scientists believe the new study will reduce the time taken to test whether stem cells could be a safe and effective treatment for people with MS by years, the MS Society said.
Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the charity, said: “Stem cells hold tremendous potential as a future treatment option for people with MS.”
In recent years many people living with MS have been attracted to overseas stem cell clinics which claim to cure long-term conditions in exchange for large amounts of money.
It is hoped these new trials will eventually lead to a proven treatment and a reduction in the draw of overseas treatments.
Sir Richard Sykes, chairman of the UK Stem Cell Foundation, said: “I am delighted that we have at last progressed stem cell research to this stage, which will bring much-needed hope to so many people affected by this devastating condition.”