Conference Coverage

VIDEO: Pilot stem cell trial for multiple system atrophy shows promising results


AT AAN 2017

– Intrathecal, autologous mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) treatment provided encouraging results for modifying the disease course of multiple system atrophy with relative safety and tolerability in a phase I/II trial.

The efficacy of MSCs on slowing multiple system atrophy (MSA) progression in a small trial of 24 patients appeared to be dependent on the dose, and, in the highest dose individuals, had a painful implantation response, trial investigator Wolfgang Singer, MD, reported at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

Dr. Singer and his colleagues at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., chose to investigate MSCs as a treatment because they are multipotent and capable of differentiating into different cell types, including glial cells, and they secrete neurotrophic factors, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor and glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor, which are thought to occur at pathologically low levels in individuals with MSA. The intrinsic immunomodulatory action of MSCs may also contribute to a potential benefit on neuroinflammatory aspects of MSA pathology.

MSCs have previously shown promising results on slowing disease progression in an open-label study of Korean patients with MSA, who received an intra-arterial infusion of MSCs into the internal carotids and dominant vertebral artery, followed by intravenous infusions (Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2008 May;83[5]:723-30). Those results were confirmed in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study (Ann Neurol. 2012 Jul;72[1]:32-40), but evidence of microemboli raised concerns with the Mayo Clinic team about stroke risk with the intra-arterial approach, Dr. Singer said.

The intrathecal route of administration also may be advantageous over an intra-arterial approach by reaching the targets of MSCs in the brain “in a more widespread fashion,” Dr. Singer said.

The relative safety and hint of efficacy with the different route of MSC administration in the Mayo Clinic study make it “a really groundbreaking direction to take,” session comoderator Christopher H. Gibbons, MD, said in an interview. “I think this a very good, small, but critical, step in demonstrating that ... you can do this, and maybe there’s a signal that it is, in fact, working at slowing down disease progression, which I think is incredibly important in this disease.”

In the current study, Dr. Singer and his associates intrathecally administered between 10 and 200 million autologous, fat-derived MSCs via lumbar puncture in predefined dose tiers and then followed patients over 1 year. Overall, 8 patients received a single dose of 10 million cells, 12 received a dose of 50 million cells followed by a second 50-million cell dose 4 weeks later, and 4 received a dose of 100 million cells followed by a second 100-million cell dose 4 weeks later.

The 24 patients in the study all met consensus criteria for probable MSA, had at least moderate laboratory evidence of autonomic failure, and were at an early stage of disease with a Unified MSA Rating Scale part 1 score of 18 or less.

In the primary outcome of safety, the investigators reported no treatment–attributable serious adverse events and said that the treatment was generally well-tolerated. All 16 patients who took either the high or medium doses had MRI abnormalities that showed thickening/enhancement of cauda equina nerve roots at the level of the puncture that were asymptomatic and did not lead to neurologic deficits.

The 12 medium-dose patients had variable elevation of cerebrospinal fluid protein and cell counts, and 5 had mild and transient low back pain. In the highest-dose tier, three of four patients developed low back pain, some of which was severe, and the same MRI findings, which signaled to the investigators that a dose-limiting toxicity had been reached.

Some patients also reported headaches after lumbar punctures, which were expected. Two patients also developed mild febrile reactions after administrations that were self-limited.

Treatment with MSCs led to a significantly lower rate of disease progression as measured by total score on the Unified MSA Rating Scale (0.43 vs. 1.22 points/month; P = .009), and this difference was even greater for the medium-dose tier than for the low-dose tier. The investigators used the placebo group from their recently completed rifampicin treatment trial in MSA to make the efficacy assessment.

There was no change between the treatment groups and the historical control group on the Composite Autonomic Symptom Scale or the Composite Autonomic Severity Score from baseline to 1 year.

Based on the promising findings, the Food and Drug Administration granted permission for a compassionate extension study for apparent responders to receive additional injections every 6 months, and, so far, 16 patients have been reinjected, according to Dr. Singer.

Dr. Singer and his associates have used these results as the basis for a multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase II/III study that is in the late planning stages. This kind of trial will be important for determining whether it’s possible to hold the quality of the MSC treatment steady and get the same sort of response across many centers, said Dr. Gibbons, a clinical neurophysiologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, and past-president of the American Autonomic Society.

The trial was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Cure MSA Foundation, the Food and Drug Administration, the Autonomic Rare Disease Consortium, and Mayo Clinic funds. Dr. Singer and Dr. Gibbons reported having no relevant financial disclosures.

You can watch a video interview with Dr. Singer here.

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