An Australian man appears to have made a remarkable recovery from multiple sclerosis after receiving new stem cell treatment. Ben Leahy, 20, was diagnosed with the disease in 2008 and ended up in intensive care at one point with respiratory failure after his condition deteriorated rapidly. He was in a wheelchair and also had sight problems when he underwent the procedure earlier this year but today he is walking and recovering well. Australian doctors removed stem cells from Ben’s bone marrow, then used chemicals to destroy all the existing immune cells in the body before re-injecting his stem cells. ACT neurologist Dr Colin Andrews says the positive results in Ben have surprised doctors. “At the moment there’s a good chance we may have arrested the disease,” he said. “He walks pretty well, there’s only some mild weakness in his right leg and some visual loss in one eye and apart from that he’s very intact,” he said. Dr Andrews says health professionals had been reluctant to use the technique because of the risk of death was at around 8 per cent several years ago. He was unable to get consensus from his peers to go ahead with the treatment in Canberra and could not try the treatment on Ben until he found a specialist in Sydney who was doing similar work on people with other conditions. He also had to get Ben well enough to be able to undergo the stem cell treatment and this took several months.
The risk of death from the procedure has now been reduced to 1 per cent and Dr Andrews says the outstanding results on Ben means it can now be an option for more people as a last resort if other treatments have not been successful in stopping the progress of the disease. “I’ve told some of my MS friends in our association, they’re quite pleased about it all,” he said. “It sets another landmark for people to work towards.” Mr Andrews hopes to start offering it to some patients, whom he describes as “special cases” in Sydney and Melbourne. He says for some patients there will be a 60 to 80 per cent chance the progress of the disease can be stopped and for others a good chance it can be reversed. Ben’s mother Prue, who was afraid he was going to die, says it was beyond her expectations to have him walking again. “What I got was more than I could have ever imagined or hoped for,” she said. Ben says he will now return to school and hopes to study physics. Multiple sclerosis affects the central nervous system and stop nerve impulses travelling to the brain, spinal cord and eyes and those with the disease suffer from episodes which are unpredictable, with varying symptoms. Almost 20,000 Australians have the disease. A small trial done early this year overseas stopped symptoms and in a few cases reversed neurological damage of multiple scerosis. news from abc.net.au
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