February 12, 2024

UAE scientists hold hope of finding MS cure as patient walks again after treatment

Abu Dhabi, UAE, 10 February 2024: The UAE is making advances not only in managing multiple sclerosis but also towards helping to find a cure for the debilitating disease afflicting millions worldwide.

While there is no cure for the neurological disorder, treatment is available to manage symptoms and delay its progression.

Figures compiled by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society show the UAE has a higher prevalence of the disease than the global average.

In its most severe form, primary progressive MS leaves patients permanently disabled, but researchers are hoping this will soon be a thing of the past.

Abu Dhabi and specifically the ADSCC are paving the right path for a cure that is not only effective but also accessible to all

Prof Dr Yendry Ventura, Research Scientist and Chief Executive of the Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Centre.

"One of our core missions and part of the national agenda is to try to find solutions with the aim of curing MS," Dr Fatima Al Kaabi, executive director of the bone marrow transplant programme at the Abu Dhabi Stem Cell Centre, and vice chairwoman of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, told The National.

The Centre is testing a procedure to treat people with multiple sclerosis, called ECP.

White blood cells are drawn from a patient's body, then treated with a special drug that reacts to light, before finally being reinfused back into the person.

This therapy is designed to stop a type of white blood cell from attacking a patient's body from within.

Patients can register to participate in the clinical trials, if they are considered medically eligible.

The ADSCC has also participated in international trials involving injecting stem cells into the brain, with 15 patients participating so far.

It is the only medical centre in the region performing bone marrow stem cell transplants to treat MS patients.

"For the past 10 years, name a medication that has stopped progressive multiple sclerosis," Dr Al Kaabi said.

"What comes onto the market are other forms of the same medication, so why don't we explore new boundaries and see how we can regenerate organs and use neural stem cells?"

Remarkable improvement

Since the launch of the programme in 2022, four patients with progressive MS have undergone stem cell transplants to treat their symptoms.

All of the patients have shown remarkable improvement, the ADSCC said.

One, who previously used a wheelchair, regained the ability to walk without support after the procedure.

This is a procedure that the ADSCC has modified not only to be more accessible, but also less harsh on the body in some cases by using less toxic medications compared to chemotherapy.

Prof Yendry Ventura, research scientist and chief executive of the centre, said the new trials include efforts to regenerate damaged organs.

"We are fighting two battles, where we want to stop the cause of the disease and regenerate the damaged organ. For that, you need different approaches," he said.

"We are not only trying to treat but also trying to cure. This could be the answer to degenerative conditions where the brain is damaged."

If successful, it would be a breakthrough not only for the treatment of MS but also for other diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and ALS.


There is no timeline for when a cure may be possible, but that hasn't weakened the ADSCC team's resolve.

"What we can promise is that we are looking at as many potential options, areas, and disciplines that we can use for the benefit of the patient," Prof Ventura said.

"It is not easy, and we need to understand that these are not simple diseases but complex ones that have been affecting the world for a long time. But Abu Dhabi and specifically the ADSCC are paving the right path for a cure that is not only effective but also accessible to all.

He hopes to see a revolution not only for MS but also in cellular therapy and regenerative medicine in the next five years.

"There are a lot of scientists, health facilities, including us, working heavily in stem cell therapy and regenerative medicine," Prof Ventura added.

"I expect a lot of medical breakthroughs in the next few years."

Stem cell transplants for eligible MS patients are available for both citizens and residents.

Findings by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society also show that the prevalence of the disease in the UAE is significantly higher than the global average.

There are 65 people living with MS for every 100,000 people in the country, and the prevalence is higher when looking at only the Emirati population.

Young adults aged 18 to 39 make up the largest group of people living with the disease in the UAE, accounting for 64.3 per cent of all cases.

People aged 40-59 comprise the second-largest group, with 31 per cent of cases.

Globally, the prevalence of MS is higher in women, which is mirrored in the UAE, with more than 65 per cent of affected people being female.

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