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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Stem cells 'reverse' MS in Canberra man


A Canberra man diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) just over 12 months ago appears to be on the road to recovery after being treated with stem cells.

Ben Leahy was in a wheelchair earlier this year and had suffered partial vision loss in one eye, but has since recovered to the point where he is walking.

The 20-year-old's remarkable recovery came after he underwent a procedure in which stem cells were harvested from his bone marrow, before chemicals were used to destroy all his existing immune cells.

Mr Leahy's stem cells were then re-injected.

ACT neurologist Dr Colin Andrews said the treatment appeared to have reversed the effects of MS which Mr Leahy was diagnosed with in August 2008.

Dr Andrews said Mr Leahy still had mild weakness in his right leg and some visual loss in one eye, but appeared to be recovering well.

"At the moment, there's a good chance we may have arrested the disease," he told ABC News.

The treatment, which carried a risk of death of eight per cent several years ago, was performed in Sydney after Dr Andrews was unable to get the green light from peers in Canberra.

It has also given hope to other sufferers of the disease.

Dr Andrews said the treatment offered between a 60 per cent and 80 per cent chance of halting the disease in some patients and a good chance of reversing it in others.

Almost 20,000 Australians have MS, which affects the central nervous system, prevents nerve impulses from travelling to the brain, spinal cord and eyes.

While the treatment appears to have reversed the progress of the degenerative disease in Mr Leahy, there is no cure.