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Dad with MS raising funds for stem cell transplant in Mexico: VIDEO

A Burlington dad with multiple sclerosis is hoping a controversial and costly stem cell transplant in Mexico will do for him what a similar treatment appears to have done for hockey legend Gordie Howe.

Chris Graham, 40, launched a campaign on crowdfunding website GoFundMe to raise the $60,000 he says will be needed to pay for the transplant at a private clinic in the city of Puebla next year.

It’s an initiative Graham took on after his neurologist deemed him ineligible to have a hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) in Ottawa, where doctors have been leading the way in such treatments for MS patients.

While clinical trials for HSCT in Ottawa are done — and treatment is now available for “appropriate” patients — doctors caution the transplants remain unproven and risky, and should only be performed on MS patients meeting stringent medical criteria.

“I’m just trying to stop the MS from progressing,” says Graham, a married father of two kids, ages 13 and 10. “I don’t want to be in a nursing home or bedridden ... that’s why I researched and found this procedure.”

Diagnosed with the autoimmune disease in 2006, what started as numbness on Graham’s right side has turned into an inability to walk more than 100 metres without a walker. He is now noticing the same thing happening to his left side.

A tipping point in his decision to head to Mexico came after learning about Howe, a stroke victim who recently made headlines after receiving stem cell treatments at a clinic in Tijuana. Members of Howe’s family say his speech and mobility have improved.

But many in North America’s regenerative medicine community remain skeptical.

Dr. Mark Freedman, of The Ottawa Hospital’s MS research unit, says the procedure is a “drastic” form of treatment that works best on MS patients who are in the early stages of the disease, experiencing aggressive intermittent attacks, and not responding to medication.

Once a patient reaches a certain point of debilitation, the procedure is of questionable benefit, he adds.

“If the war is done, and the battle field is left, which is often the case after patients enter a progressive phase ... that type of severe intervention is really closing the door after the horse is gone,” says Freedman.

He adds a lot of people read stories about stem cell treatments and decide on their own that “is what they want, and they think they can just get it.”

The Ottawa Hospital’s Dr. Harold Atkins says while HSCTs are more common when it comes to blood diseases such as leukemia, the risks of such a procedure on an MS patient must be weighed against the likelihood of them benefiting from it.

“It is a drastic treatment,” says Atkins, who adds risks include damage to the neurological system and organs — and even death in a small number of cases.

“It causes a lot of side effects, (and) you need a proper team that knows how to take care of patients that are doing transplants,” he says. “There is a risk of dying from the procedure ... It is balancing the risks and the benefits.”

The provincial government announced on Friday it will invest $25 million over five years in regenerative medical research.


  • There around 100,000 Canadians living with multiple sclerosis, one of the most common neurological diseases in this country:
  • MS is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) that attacks myelin, a protective shield covering nerves, interfering with the brain’s ability to communicate to parts of the body.
  • Symptoms include impaired speech, possible loss of balance and co-ordination, loss of mobility, paralysis, numbness and tingling in various parts of the body.
  • Women are three times more likely to develop MS than men.
  • The cause of MS remains unclear, but evidence suggests lifestyle, and environmental, genetic and biological factors play a role.
  • Canada has the highest rate of MS in the world.

What is a hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT)?

The primary objective of the HSCT procedure is to reboot an MS patient’s immune system.

Stem cells from the patient are harvested, purified and frozen. Medical personnel give patients high doses of chemotherapy to eliminate their defective immune system.

The patient’s purified stem cells are introduced to the body to build a new immune system that no longer attacks the central nervous system.

Many in Canada’s medical community consider the HSCT procedure to be risky — mainly because of the vulnerability a patient faces once their immune system is depleted, as well as damage that could be done by the drugs they are given.

They say it should only performed on patients who are in the early stages of MS and experiencing aggressive attacks and symptoms. For this reason, only patients that meet certain criteria end up in Canadian-based treatment programs, such as a prominent program run out of The Ottawa Hospital. Some ineligible patients travel to other jurisdictions — such as the U.S. and Mexico — for treatment.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by TORONTOSUN
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length

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