Our first experience with the use of stem cells for controlling multiple sclerosis (MS) was in 1998. Working with a team from the University of Washington (UW) and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC), we were among the first in the world to recognize that MS, as an immune-mediated (I-M) disease, might be controlled if we could stop the immune system from attacking the central nervous system (CNS). Our technique was to cryopreserve autologous CD35+ blood stem cells, utilize a variety of mechanisms to suppress the immune system, and return the CD35+ cells back into the subject. Since the initial trial, we have continued to refine our techniques to achieve greater efficacy with less toxicity.
Although our primary focus continues to be MS, we have also applied this technique to other I-M diseases such as neuromyelitis optica, stiff man's (person's) syndrome, and other I-M diseases with encouraging results. Based on our two decades of research in this area, we now feel that we have a satisfactory tool to approach trials on other I-M disorders. We believe that this treatment protocol will ultimately be more widely used to benefit patients with MS and other I-M diseases.