Experimental treatment gives new hope to MS patients
November 17, 1997
Web posted at: 5:27 p.m. EST (2227 GMT)
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- At one point, Ellen Wright was crippled
by multiple sclerosis. She was confined to a wheelchair,
unable to walk, use her arms, or even speak. Today, as she
takes a leisurely stroll along the coast of Los Angeles, she
proves that it is possible for an MS sufferer to walk again.
The experimental treatment that gave her back her motion has
brought new hope to others struggling with the disability.
Dr. Stephen Forman of City of Hope Hospital near Los Angeles
gave Wright an autologous bone marrow transplant, removing,
treating and reinserting her own marrow.
Researchers believe the symptoms of multiple sclerosis begin
in the bone marrow, the base camp of the immune system, where
many defensive cells are formed.
"Most people seem to think that MS develops because the
immune system has interacted with something that caused it to
see a person's own nerves as foreign, and reacting against
it," Forman said.
For at least some people with MS, a bone marrow transplant
may replace the troublemakers with a friendlier immune
"Our idea is to give such intensive therapy that we wipe out
the bad cells that are causing the disease and assume that
the new immune system that redevelops afterwards will not
develop those cells that cause the disease, or won't do it
for a very long time," Forman said.
It is considered ideal to make the transplant early in the
course of the disease, before it does too much permanent
Nobody knows how long the good effects will last. But most
doctors and their patients feel that improvement for any
length of time is worthwhile, Forman said.
"I think the idea is that if we can reset the clock and a
person will go 10, 20, 30 years before they have any
manifestations again, is that a good thing? I think we would
agree, and the patients would agree that it is."
The procedure carries serious risks. Some people die from
infections. But Wright felt the chance to regain a life was
worth the risk of losing it.
"All of the things we take for granted every day start being
cut off," she said.
Her family, she says, also felt the risks were worth taking.
As she walked along cliffs near her home, she recalled a
conversation she had with her daughter, after her treatment.
"I said to her, do you think that any of the wishes that we
make ever really do come true? And she turned to me so
strongly, and said, 'I wished for you to get better, and see,