Doing an MS abroad is a good option
Healthcare - MS Stem Cell Therapy - Between Skepticism and Last Hope
"This is my last option for treatment!" Andrea Müller (37) has already registered for treatment at the Pigorov Hospital in Moscow. She still has to collect the money for this on the Internet.
The mother of two children has a severe form of MS, which even modern medication can hardly help. She is already dependent on the wheelchair. The stem cell transplant in Moscow is supposed to prevent her handicap from spreading to her arms and ending up in the care bed in the near future.
The center in Moscow is one of around 20 centers worldwide that offers treatment that can stop MS. In the past ten years, 590 MS patients have been treated in Moscow under the direction of the hematologist Denis Fedorenko, 340 of them from abroad.
He relies on one autologous stem cell transplant (HSCT)which is also used for blood cancers such as leukemia.
A salutary restart of the immune system
In this procedure, the immune system of MS sufferers is destroyed via chemotherapy and then rebuilt with previously removed stem cells - a kind of restart of the body's own defense system. The newly built immune system does not attack the nerve cells in the brain any further: MS is stopped in this way. However, pre-existing damage to the nerve tracts remains.
Nevertheless, a lot has improved for 33-year-old Annemieke De Kloe since the treatment in Moscow. The Dutch woman with Swiss roots visited “Puls” five months after the stem cell treatment.
In MS, the own immune system attacks the nerve layer in the brain. Despite better and better medication, some of the mostly young patients have repeated severe courses: They lose control over their bodies and suffer from severe impairments. In extreme cases, MS leads to complete bed rest.
While she used to rely on a walker, she can walk long distances on her own again, and even skiing is possible again.
Swiss neurologists are at odds
For the Zurich neurology professor Roland Martin, such results are no surprise. He considers stem cell therapy to be currently the most effective therapy for aggressive disease processes. Together with the USZ's Clinic for Hematology, which has been performing stem cell transplants in cancer patients for 40 years, Roland Martin would like to launch an offer for MS patients in Zurich.
For 10 to 20 percent of all MS patients, stem cell transplants are a good or better alternative to medication, says Roland Martin.
But other neurologists, such as Basel Professor Ludwig Kappos, are much more skeptical: Kappos considers stem cell treatment to be risky, as chemotherapy can also lead to death. In addition, the effectiveness of the method is still insufficiently proven in studies. According to Kappos, the studies published so far are too small and have not been sufficiently compared with one of the effective new drugs.
The expert dispute may also affect approval. Stem cell transplantation for autoimmune diseases such as MS is included on the list of federal health insurance benefits. However, the health insurers only have to pay upon prior request and if the treatment is carried out as part of a study. However, due to a lack of research funding, a study was never carried out in Switzerland.
Officially anchored in Sweden
You are further in Sweden. There, at the University of Uppsala, the first MS patients were treated in this way more than 10 years ago, with no deaths and with great success. In the meantime, 150 MS patients have already undergone the treatment, announced the Swedish neurologist Joachim Burman when asked by «Puls».
In addition, stem cell transplantation has been firmly anchored in the national treatment guidelines for multiple sclerosis since December 2016 and is therefore no longer considered an experimental form of therapy.
Whether and when this will happen in Switzerland is still open. The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) is waiting until the end of the year for submissions on the effectiveness and would then like to decide on any definitive approval, a spokesman told “Puls”.
But patients like Andrea Müller cannot wait for it. Your condition is worsening month by month. She has already received an appointment for the summer from the Moscow clinic.
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