uOttawa scientist wins Canada's top stem cell prize for multiple sclerosis trial
Dr. Harold Atkins, stem cell transplant physician and scientist at the University of Ottawa and The Ottawa Hospital, will receive the prestigious Till & McCulloch Award for “exceptional contributions to global stem cell research.” The award will be presented at the Till & McCulloch Meeting, organized by the Stem Cell Network, in November, 2017.
Nineteen years ago, many were skeptical when Dr. Atkins and his colleague neurologist Dr. Mark Freedman first proposed the idea that using stem cells to reprogram the immune system could completely halt the progress of multiple sclerosis. While less intense versions of the treatment had been tried before for MS, they did not completely stop the immune system from continuing to damage the brain.
However, after years of careful follow-up of 24 patients with very aggressive MS, they were proven right. Their paper published in The Lancet showed that the risky procedure completely halted the damage to the brain caused by the immune system, stopping relapses. The disabilities in the majority of patients stabilized, and some even recovered lost abilities.
"It's wonderful," said Dr. Atkins. "I've kept in touch with many of these patients, and I even work with one of them. It always seems like a miracle because looking at them now, it is hard to remember what things were like before they started the treatment."