Dr. Mark Freedman

13
Jun 2016
6 Comments

CBC program delves deeply into stem cell treatment for MS

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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.

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05
May 2015
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Dr. Mark Freedman

Beyond damage control: can MS be fixed?

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When it comes to treating multiple sclerosis (MS), Dr. Mark Freedman would like to move beyond damage control.

“We can limit, to some extent and in some cases completely, the damage,” says Dr.…

When it comes to treating multiple sclerosis (MS), Dr. Mark Freedman would like to move beyond damage control.

“We can limit, to some extent and in some cases completely, the damage,” says Dr. Freedman, a clinician/researcher at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. “But fixing the damage that’s been done? Not yet. “

Fixing the damage done by MS is the ultimate goal of a new $4.2-million clinical trial that Dr. Freedman is co-leading with Dr. James J. Marriott of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.  It’s called MESCAMS (for MEsenchymal Stem cell therapy for CAnadian MS patients).

“The excitement surrounding the MESCAMS has been tremendous,” says Yves Savoie, President and CEO, MS Society of Canada, a major supporter of the clinical trial.  “Not only is Canada fortunate to have two  trial sites in both Ottawa and Winnipeg – accepting a total of 40 Canadian participants – but MESCAMS is also part of a larger international research effort studying mesenchymal stem cells that pools scientific resources and expertise from nine countries. This level of collaboration will yield important answers about the efficacy of cell-based treatments.”

Found mostly in the bone marrow, fatty tissue and cartilage, mesenchymal stem cells have a natural anti-inflammatory effect that makes them an intriguing possibility for treating MS, which occurs when a person’s immune system attacks and inflames the protective sheath (myelin) covering nerves. Myelin damage snags the signals that flow from the brain through the nervous system to the rest of the body.

“These cells possibly will act like anti-inflammatory drugs to control the disease,” says Dr. Freedman. ”But what we’re really looking for is the potential for something to heal up, for a sign that these cells are doing something.  Other people have noted it in the optic nerve system, which is actually an extension of the brain and is affected by MS.”

Readers may be familiar with the story of Jennifer Molson, the Ottawa woman whose MS symptoms were eradicated by a stem cell bone marrow transplant conducted by Dr. Freedman and Dr. Harry Atkins as part of an earlier clinical trial. Each trial participant underwent a harrowing course of chemotherapy that virtually destroyed their immune system before being given a fortified version of their own bone marrow stem cells to rebuild it. With MESCAMS no such chemo bombardment is necessary.

“We don’t exactly know why Jennifer, and others in the trial, recovered. We think the reason is we were able to curb the inflammatory response to the point where the body could heal.  These cells that we’re using (mesenchymal stem cells) have been shown, at least in early studies in humans, to repair — period. But they happen, at the same time, to have an anti-inflammatory effect. So they may be able to accomplish both things together. And without the need of any chemo, there is very little risk to the people taking it.”

The real challenge, says Dr. Freedman, will be measuring — and scientifically documenting — repair, if it happens. “When was the last time you heard something that could repair things in MS? Nobody’s been able to show it.  So we’re hoping we will be able to see it and measure it. That’s the real goal of this study.  If we can all show the same signal through nine or 10 sites around the world doing this, then we’re going to have the evidence we need to move to the next stage, which is doing this en masse with people who have already acquired damage . That’s what our MS patients are all hoping for.“

However, Dr. Freedman urges caution.  This is an early stage clinical trial. If the mesenchymal stem cells do affect repair, it may be minimal. “The primary outcome is going to be the effect on gadolinium-enhanced lesions in MS as shown by MRI. It will prove whether we have biologically viable cells capable of creating an effect that can be measured in humans.  It may sound trivial, but it’s never been done.”

Editor’s Note: MESCAMS organizers have published a Frequently Asked Questions page about the trial here (http://bit.ly/1ES3jN1).  Full eligibility criteria are available here(https://clinicaltrials.gov/show/NCT02239393).

 

 

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16
Dec 2013
15 Comments
Jennifer Molson 2 Capture

‘A second chance at life’

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This is the third in a series of blog posts about the success the Ottawa Hospital’s Dr. Harry Atkins is having in treating autoimmune disorders with stem cell bone marrow transplantation.  

This is the third in a series of blog posts about the success the Ottawa Hospital’s Dr. Harry Atkins is having in treating autoimmune disorders with stem cell bone marrow transplantation.  We previously featured Tina Ceroni, a Burlington Ontario athlete whose life was sidelined by a rare disease called Stiff Person Syndrome, and Jelissa Morgan, a patient with a crippling condition called neuromyelitis optica who is about to resume her nursing career. Today we share the story of Jennifer Molson, who has been free of all traces of Multiple Sclerosis for 11 years.

MS symptoms eradicated by stem cell treatment


Jennifer Molson
was working full time and going to school at night in the hope of becoming a police officer. It was 1996 and she was turning 21.  When her left arm started going numb for no apparent reason, it was put down to carpal tunnel syndrome.

When thingsbegan to get worse, doctors considered other possible causes. An MRI confirmed it was Multiple Sclerosis.

Jennifer’s disease came on slowly and tended — as MS does — to wax and wane. Within five years, however, it had taken control of her life.  Training for the police was out.  Full-time employment became part-time work. Eventually she was unable to work at all. Or drive a car. The once unstoppable young woman needed help doing the simplest tasks, such as cutting her food and getting in and out of the shower. “I couldn’t do anything,” Jennifer says now.

She was getting 24-hour care at the Rehab Centre at the Ottawa Hospital, “learning to how to live with my disability.” She could walk only with the help of forearm crutches or a walker. Life in a wheelchair was imminent. Her neurologist, Dr. Mark Freedman, feared that without some kind of an intervention, “she would become very disabled very quickly.”

Intervention came in the form of a stem cell bone marrow transplant to rebuild Jennifer’s immune system where the MS lurked.

For more than a dozen years, Dr. Freedman has partnered with Dr. Harry Atkins, a clinician/researcher, in treating MS patients with stem cell bone marrow transplants. In essence, they take stem cells from an MS patient and purify and fortify them. The patient undergoes extreme chemotherapy to all but annihilate their diseased immune systems. The robust stem cells are then returned to the patient to rebuild a new — hopefully disease-free — immune system.

Tried about 30 times so far, the treatment has shown strong success in stopping the progression of MS.  It has also been successfully used in other autoimmune disorders such as Crohn’s disease, neuromyelitis optic and Stiff Person Syndrome.

In Jennifer’s case, the stem cell transplant did much more than shut down the MS. It eradicated all traces of it. The crutches and walker are long gone. She’s back working full time.  As she described in the book Dreams and Due Diligence:

“I downhill ski, I drive a standard. I can skate. I can dance, but not well … I have no rhythm. That has always been the case. Am I cured? I like to use that word. They (Drs.  Freedman and Atkins) don’t like to use that word. They’re calling it a lasting remission.”

Now free of all traces of MS for more than a decade, Jennifer is an active advocate for stem cell research and development in Canada, the country where stems cells were discovered. She has lent her support to the Campaign for a Canadian Stem Cell Strategy, which is developing a plan for Canada to follow through on its outstanding research legacy to produce more of the kinds of new treatments she has benefitted from.

“I’m very lucky. I got a second chance at life. The Canadian Stem Cell Strategy will allow what happened to me to happen for thousands more Canadians who are dealing with currently incurable diseases.”

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