More than £600,000 has been donated to the Frenchay Hospital in Bristol for research into the use of stem cells as a treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS).
Bone marrow samples will be taken from the 80 selected MS patients, their stem cells extracted from it and then injected back into their bloodstream.
'When you inject these cells in to the bloodstream they do find their way into the brain and spinal cord', lead researcher Professor Neil Scolding told the BBC. 'We know once they get there they are capable of encouraging repair of damage in a variety of ways'.
The $1.1 million was given to the Burden Neurological Institute based at the hospital by American benefactor The Kenneth and Claudia Silverman Family Foundation.
Professor Scolding said: 'MS is the most common disabling neurological condition affecting young adults. Thanks to this generous donation... we are able to take a major step forward in our research to try and find a treatment for this disease'.
The Phase II trial, due to begin in late 2011, expands on the results of a pilot study that took place last year, which was reported in BioNews 557. The previous study found that nerve function increased by 20 percent after treatment and caused no serious adverse side effects. The disease remained stable in five of the six patients treated, and did not deteriorate over 12 months following the injection.
This work is unlike previous research in that these stem cells are not pre-treated to increase certain subsets of cells, and participants do not receive any immunosuppressant drugs prior to injection.
MS is caused by damage to the substance that protects nerve fibres in the central nervous system and affects around 100,000 people in the UK. Symptoms can include muscle weakness, dizziness, loss of balance, extreme fatigue, and visual and speech difficulties.