Want to know more about last Thursday’s announcement that two Ottawa doctors have found a way to shut down aggressive MS?…
Want to know more about last Thursday’s announcement that two Ottawa doctors have found a way to shut down aggressive MS?
In case you missed it, Rita Celli, host of CBC’s Ontario Today, dedicated her entire hour-long program on Friday to discussing the report. Published in the Lancet, the paper details how Drs. Harry Atkins and Mark Freedman were able to halt the progression of the disease for the 24 patients in the study. Some patients, like Jennifer Molson, saw their MS symptoms disappear entirely over time. You can access the podcast here.
Ms. Celli features Dr. Freedman who explains how the treatment destroys the patient’s immune system through chemo and then rebuilds a new MS free one using their own previously harvested bone marrow stem cells. He also takes calls from listeners, some of whom tell their stories of life with MS.
The program also features clips of Ms. Molson explaining how the treatment freed her from life in a wheelchair, and Dr. Atkins declaring that “MS can be stopped in its tracks.”
The program provided a comprehensive look at the treatment, which is considered high risk (one patient died) and is only for those MS patients for whom nothing else is working.
We recently featured the story of Tina Ceroni, a Burlington Ontario athlete whose life was sidelined by a rare, insidious disorder called Stiff Person Syndrome.…
We recently featured the story of Tina Ceroni, a Burlington Ontario athlete whose life was sidelined by a rare, insidious disorder called Stiff Person Syndrome. Thanks to a stem cell transplant, Tina’s fitness career — and her life — is back on track. To show her gratitude, Tina raised almost $37,000 for the Ottawa Hospital’s Stem Cell and Bone Marrow Transplant Program. When she was presented the cheque to Dr. Harry Atkins on Dec. 4th, Tina met with two other young women whose lives have been rescued by stem cell treatments: Jelissa Morgan and Jennifer Molson. Today we share Jelissa’s story.
From nurse to patient and (soon) back again
When Jelissa Morgan’s neuromyelitis optica flared up again in early 2012, she was devastated.
The rare immunological disorder, similar to Multiple Sclerosis, inflames the optic nerve and the spinal cord. Jelissa was losing her vision — she couldn’t read or watch movies and had trouble identifying who was talking to her. Walking was difficult. She had serious bladder and bowel problems and her skin itched. ‘My body was in pain,” she says, “but didn’t know how to express it.”
That flare-up, the worst of a series the young woman had experienced since finishing high school, transformed Jelissa from hospital nurse to hospital patient.
Until then, her doctors had kept the condition under control with Prednisone, a synthetic corticosteroid that comes with a slew of potential side-effects such as weight gain, sleep difficulties and mood swings. Some patients develop a humped back and a moon face. Jelissa had all of those symptoms and more.
A switch to a different drug, called Imuran, proved futile: she was on it when the worst flare-up struck.
“They were running out of medication options. My neurologist said, ‘What do you think about a stem cell bone marrow transplant?’ She knew about Dr. Harry Atkins and the work he was doing with MS patients.”
For the past several years, the Ottawa Hospital’s Dr. Atkins, working with neurologist Dr. Mark Freedman, has been treating MS patients with stem cell bone marrow transplants. In essence, he takes stem cells from patients with the most severe cases of the immunological disease and purifies and fortifies them. The patient then undergoes an extreme course of chemotherapy treatments that virtually annihilates their diseased immune system. The robust stem cells are then returned to them to rebuild a new — hopefully disease-free — immune system.
The process has worked well with about 30 MS patients whose disease progression has been stopped. In some cases, symptoms of the disease have diminished significantly and — in at least one case — disappeared entirely.
Dr. Atkins is also using the procedure for people who have other autoimmune disorders such as Crohn’s disease, Stiff Person Syndrome — and neuromyelitis optica.
Jelissa decided to have the experimental stem cell treatment.
“It’s kind of one of those decisions where you don’t want to wait,” she say. “You don’t know when the next flare-up will be. That last flare-up was so bad. Luckily, I was able to regain a lot of the functions I’d lost. But it’s like rolling the dice. You don’t know what could happen with the next flare-up.”
Jelissa received her stem cell transplant in the fall of 2012. She has been free of neuromyelitis optica symptoms ever since.
“I feel better than I did even before the disease began. I have much more energy. I’m off all my pills for the immune disorder and the transplant meds. I’m looking forward to getting my life back on track. That includes buying a car, moving out of my parent’s house and traveling.”
She is excited about returning to nursing in the next few months, after receiving a series of vaccinations to replace the ones lost during the chemotherapy treatment.
“From a patient perspective, a transplant is a hard thing to go through. But I survived. I feel like it’s given me a second chance at life. ”
She strongly supports stem cell research to help more people with diseases like hers.
“Stem cell research opens up so many possibilities. It’s like opening a door and entering a room and you don’t even know what’s in the room yet. It could mean treatments for so many things. There is so much hope there.”
Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the work that Drs. Mark Freedman and Harry Atkins are doing to fight multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases with stem cells. We have profiled both doctors and featured patients like Jennifer Molson, who had her MS eliminated by the treatment more than a decade ago.
On Friday, the Ottawa Citizen provided a comprehensive update headlined ‘Ottawa doctors behind breakthrough multiple sclerosis study.” The report focuses on Alex Normandin, who was a third-year medical student in Montreal when he became patient No. 19 of 24 in the original trial and underwent his bone marrow stem cell transplant in 2008. Now a practising MD, he told the paper that “Life is great.”
So far, more than 30 MS patients have been treated with stem cell transplants arising from the Ottawa study, which received funding from the Research Foundation of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.
It is not a treatment to be entered into lightly: the extreme chemotherapy patients go through before their own fortified stem cells are reintroduced to reboot their immune systems can be fatal.
However, in a country with one of the world’s highest rates of MS — between 55,000 to 75,000 Canadians are affected —- such innovative treatments are enormously encouraging.
Discussions about the healing power of stem cells are often focused on the future. We hear about the promise and potential yet to come.…
Discussions about the healing power of stem cells are often focused on the future. We hear about the promise and potential yet to come. And there’s no doubt that we are still in the early days in terms of the clinical applications of stem cells to treat or even cure disease. But it’s not all in the future.
Meet Jennifer Molson
The upcoming issue of Shoppers Drug Mart’s “glow” magazine shares a powerful story about how stem cells are helping people today.
The article focuses on Jennifer Molson who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1996. Jennifer was young, healthy, and active. She was working full time, going to college and volunteering with the Ottawa Police Youth Program
But all that was about to change. She started to experience numbness and tingling in her hands and was constantly tired. Soon after diagnosed with MS. After a short time her condition started to decline quickly and her diagnosis was changed to what’s called Secondary Progressive MS—an even more serious condition.
In 2001, Jennifer entered the Canadian MS Bone Marrow Transplant Study led by Drs. Mark Freedman and Harold Atkins at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the University of Ottawa. The study was funded by the MS Society with the goal of re-growing the immune systems of patients with MS using the patient’s own stem cells.
Do Stem Cell’s Heal?
Jennifer’s experience was not an easy one, nor was it without risks—of seizures, sterility, and even death. But over time, things started to change for her—gradually at first. She tells us that it took almost two years before she started to feel better.
In fact, the improvements that Jennifer experienced were unexpected. The goal of the study was to stop the progression of MS, but Jennifer’s results went further.
If you ran into Jennifer today, you probably wouldn’t know what she’s been through. She’s left her wheelchair behind and today she works full time, she can drive, and she’s completely independent (she even skis).
Jennifer Molson is an inspiration. She’s a reminder that while stem cell research still has a long way to go, it’s changing lives today. We encourage you to read more about Jennifer’s moving story in the upcoming issue of “glow” magazine.
The Canadian MS Bone Marrow Transplant Research Study is a MS Society-funded project to determine whether transplanting bone marrow stem cells in people with MS can stop the disease.…
The Canadian MS Bone Marrow Transplant Research Study is a MS Society-funded project to determine whether transplanting bone marrow stem cells in people with MS can stop the disease. Led by Drs. Mark Freedman and Harold Atkins at the University of Ottawa, the study began in August of 2000. Ten years later, more than half of the 26 patients enrolled have seen their symptoms stabilize and, in many cases, actually improve, unheard of results in the treatment of MS. Yet few people know about this research. As part of our month-long focus on MS and stem cells, we will speak with people involved in every aspect of this study: the doctors and researchers, patients and their families and the people behind the scenes. Today, Alexander Normin, a patient in the study, talks about his experience with MS.
The Canadian MS Bone Marrow Transplant Research Study is a MS Society-funded project to re-grow the immune systems of patients with MS using stem cells.…
The Canadian MS Bone Marrow Transplant Research Study is a MS Society-funded project to re-grow the immune systems of patients with MS using stem cells. Led by Drs. Mark Freedman and Harold Atkins at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and University of Ottawa, the study began in August of 2000. Ten years later, more than half of the 26 patients enrolled have seen their symptoms stabilize and, in many cases, actually improve, unheard of results in the treatment of MS. Yet few people know about this research. As part of our month-long salute to MS and stem cells, we will speak with people involved in every aspect of this study: the doctors and researchers, patients and their families and the people behind the scenes. In these three videos, Dr. Harry Atkins gives an overview of stem cells and how they’re being used in this study. Videos courtesy of the Canada Science and Technology Museum.
Over the past 38 days, we’ve celebrated a slightly extended version of MS Awareness Month by exploring how stem cells are being used to treat MS.…
Over the past 38 days, we’ve celebrated a slightly extended version of MS Awareness Month by exploring how stem cells are being used to treat MS. If you missed any of it, here’s the recap.
In our multi-part series on the Canadian MS Bone Marrow Transplant Research Study, we heard from researchers who are re-growing the immune systems of patients with MS using stem cells. We also heard from the people behind the scenes of the study, as well as a few of the patients:
- Study leaders Drs. Mark Freedman and Harry Atkins spoke about the science behind the treatment and the surprising results
- Jennifer Molson, Sue-Anne Lecompte and Cathy Nabuurs shared their experiences as patients in the study and how stem cells have transformed their lives
- Marjorie Bowman gave us a behind the scenes look at how this study got started and how it has evolved over the past 10 years
We also celebrated World MS Day and posted lots of resources about MS and stem cells, like this Stem Cell and MS Animation, this video featuring Dr. Sam Weiss on Reversing Stroke and MS and the Stem Cell Network MS Patient Summary.