Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system. It causes the body’s immune system to attack the different parts of the central nervous system such as the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve. While there is no cure for MS, stem cell therapy can help improve a person’s symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease. Stem cell therapy is an experimental treatment that people can access through clinical trials.

MS causes the body to direct an immune response to its own central nervous system.

This immune response damages the myelin, which is the fatty substance that surrounds the nerve fibers. It also damages the nerve fibers themselves and the cells that make myelin.

Symptoms of MS can vary in severity. Some people can have mild symptoms and others can have severe symptoms that can be debilitating.

There is a range of treatment options that can help reduce symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. One such treatment is stem cell therapy. This article will cover what stem cell therapy is, why it is important for people with MS, and whether it is safe and effective.

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Stem cells are types of cells that can turn into any other specific cell in the adult body. These cells play an important role in early life and growth as they help the body develop the variety of cells that it needs.

Other functions include:


Stem cells help the body repair itself. They replace cells that the body loses through wear and tear, injury, or disease.

These types of cells are present in a number of organs and tissues and can remain inactive for long periods of time before they are required to activate.

Stem cells are present in:

  • the brain
  • bone marrow
  • blood and blood vessels
  • skeletal muscles
  • skin
  • the liver


Stem cells also have the ability to self-renew. This means they can divide and create an unlimited amount of new cells of the same type.

Medical professionals are now using stem cells to treat a number of medical conditions. A person can receive a transplant of healthy stem cells, which can then replace damaged cells in the body.

This is a common treatment for a number of medical conditions, including a number of cancers as well as immune system disorders, blood disorders, and metabolic disorders.

Learn more about the importance of stem cells here.

Medical professionals can use stem cells to treat MS. They can carry out stem cell transplants, where a person with MS receives healthy stem cells to replace the other specific cells in their body.

There are a variety of types of stem cell therapy that use different types of stem cells.

They include:

Autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation

An autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (aHSCT) involves wiping out a person’s immune system and then regrowing it using the person’s own hematopoietic stem cells. These are stem cells that can develop into all types of blood cells, including white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.

This method destroys the dysfunctional immune system that is causing the symptoms of MS and replaces it with an immune system that works normally.

To destroy the original, dysfunctional immune system, a person receives cytotoxic therapy. This is usually in the form of chemotherapy with immunoablative therapeutic antibodies, which help remove and destroy the immune system’s cells.

Learn more about stem cell transplantations here.

Mesenchymal stem cell therapy

Mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) therapy is another potential treatment for the symptoms of MS. This therapy is still in the clinical trial phase.

MSCs are able to promote myelin repair and have a positive effect on a person’s immune system.

During MSC therapy, a doctor removes a person’s MSCs from their bone marrow, blood, or other tissues. They then multiply these cells in a lab and re-introduce them in greater numbers in their body.

In some instances, a scientist may treat these cells before the therapy is completed. They may do this to enhance the cells’ ability to suppress nervous system-damaging immune responses and to help promote their ability to repair myelin.

A number of clinical trials have taken place to analyze how effective MSC therapy is for people with MS. One 2020 review of a number of pre-clinical and clinical trials states that MSCs seems promising in MS treatment. The review states that this is due to:

  • their ability to modulate a person’s immune system
  • their release of trophic factors, which are molecules that help neurons in the brain develop
  • their ability to differentiate into a wide variety of other cells
  • their ability to regenerate

According to one 2019 review of a number of studies, there is convincing evidence that aHSCT is effective in stopping inflammatory MS activity and in helping improve neurological disability in people with MS.

Another review stated that aHSCT can suppress MS disease activity for 4–5 years in 70–80% of people with MS. The review states that this rate is higher than any other rate achieved by other MS therapies.

The 2019 review also adds that the safety of aHSCT has improved in recent years. It states that the European Bone Marrow Transplantation (EBMT) Registry shows that the mortality rate of these transplants has fallen from 7.3% between 1995–2000 to 0.7% between 2008–2016.

Despite the positive results and increased safety, more clinical trials are required to test the efficacy and safety of aHSCT for people with MS.

Currently, no type of stem cell therapy is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of MS. This means that doctors consider it an experimental treatment.

Doctors already use aHSCT therapy for the treatment of blood cancers, but the FDA has not approved it for use in MS. However, its general use is approved, and medical professionals have called for further studies to widen its use in the treatment of MS.

A person can discuss the safety and effectiveness of clinical trials involving stem cell therapy with their doctor.

Scientists are carrying out clinical trials that are looking at a number of different types of stem cells to see if they can be an effective treatment for MS.

Some of the stem cells that may be useful in treating MS are:

  • Haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs): These are adult stem cells that are present in a person’s bone marrow and blood. They can produce all blood cells and the cells that function in the immune system.
  • Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs): These adult stem cells are present in a number of places in the body, including the bone marrow, skin, and fat. These stem cells can produce the cells that help other stem cells function properly.
  • Neural stem cells (NSCs): These are specialized stem cells that can repair the myelin in the brain. This is helpful as MS can damage myelin as well as the cells that make myelin. NSCs can come from other stem cells such as mesenchymal cells.
  • Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs): These stem cells come from donated embryos. They can naturally produce any cell in the human body, meaning they may be effective in treating MS. There is a concern about their safety, as they may be able to cause tumors to develop.
  • Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs): A medical professional can obtain these cells by reprogramming other adult cells. They can produce all different types of adult cells. There is a concern about their safety, as they may be able to cause tumors to develop.

Learn more about treatment guidelines for MS here.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disease. It causes the immune system to attack the brain, spinal cord, and the optic nerve. MS causes symptoms such as weakness, problems walking, stiffness and muscle spasms, blurred vision, vertigo, and dizziness.

There are a number of treatment options for a person with MS, including stem cell therapy.

Stem cells are cells that can transform into other cell types. They can also regenerate, creating an indefinite number of new cells. This makes them useful when treating MS.

A doctor can use cytotoxic drugs to destroy a person’s dysfunctional immune system before injecting that person with stem cells. These cells can then create new immune cells, which can build a person a brand new, functional immune system. This can help reduce MS symptoms.

Stem cell therapy is not approved by the FDA for use in people with MS, and doctors consider it an experimental treatment.

Other therapies, using different types of stem cells, may also be effective. Medical professionals are carrying out a number of clinical trials to test the effectiveness of these different cells.