Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis and Stem Cell Treatment for MS

Multiple sclerosis is a condition where your immune system attacks your body by damaging the sheath that wraps your nerves—the myelin. Most people with MS have symptoms that slowly progress in severity over the years. Their symptoms can become stable or bearable but never go away completely. In one type of MS—known as relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS), you may experience periods of flares and remissions. During flare-ups, your MS symptoms seem to be worse than normal, and during periods of remission, they may lessen, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society tells us.

Selma Blair MS Remission
Getty Images

What Is Multiple Sclerosis?

MS is an autoimmune disease where your immune mistakenly attacks the cells in the myelin, the protective sheath that surrounds nerves in your brain and spinal cord, according to the Cleveland Clinic. When the myelin sheath is damaged, it interrupts nerve signals from your brain to other parts of your body. That can cause a range of symptoms, including:

  • Changes in gait
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tingling or numbness, especially in your legs or arms

Nearly 1 million American adults have MS, the Cleveland Clinic says, and most people with the condition are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40.

Relapsing-Remitting MS

One of the most common forms of MS, known as relapsing-remitting MS, is marked by periods of flares (or clinical attacks, per the US National Library of Medicine), during which a person has symptoms; and periods of remission, during which symptoms may subside or go away, the National MS Society says.

But remission isn't necessarily easy to achieve with MS, and it often doesn't last, Amit Sachdev, MD, medical director in the department of neurology at Michigan State University, tells Health. "It is very hard to achieve remission in autoimmune diseases in general, and we don't truly understand the immunology well enough to guarantee that remission has been induced by any treatment," he says.

In many cases, after 10 years, relapsing-remitting MS may develop into another form of MS called secondary progressive MS, per the MS Society. In this form, there are no periods of remission, and symptoms get progressively worse.

MS Remission From Stem Cell Treatment

Your doctor can suggest treatments that might help the possibility of having fewer symptoms and extend the periods of remission. Such treatments include different types of medicine given in pill form, as injections, or through regular infusions. New treatment technologies are being pursued every day. One such treatment option is stem cell transplantation. The National MS Society tells us, "Although cell-based therapy has generated a great deal of interest and holds promise, the field is still developing, and continued research will determine its effectiveness and safety in treating MS."

Actress Selma Blair has been more than candid about her experience with multiple sclerosis after first revealing her diagnosis to the public in 2018. Now, she has big news to share: She's in remission.

Blair, 49, made the announcement at the discovery TCA panel, where she was promoting her documentary, Introducing Selma Blair. The actress credits a stem cell transplant—more specifically, a hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT)—she had two years ago as helping her reach this point. "My prognosis is great. I'm in remission. Stem cell put me in remission," Blair said, per People. "It took about a year after stem cell for the inflammation and lesions to really go down."

Blair has experienced a slew of intense symptoms since her diagnosis, including having trouble speaking and losing her ability to use her left leg properly. Blair said she's been feeling better for months but wanted to wait to share her news.

"I was reluctant to talk about it because I felt this need to be more healed and more fixed," she said. "I've accrued a lifetime of some baggage in the brain that still needs a little sorting out or accepting. That took me a minute to get to that acceptance. It doesn't look like this for everyone."

Blair also said that she's "felt unwell and misunderstood for so long," noting that she's been experiencing an MS flare for years—and that it took a toll on her health, both physically and mentally. "It's not that MS was on a path killing me. I mean, it was killing me with this flare lasting so long," she told People. "I was so burnt out. If there was an option to halt me, to rebalance after being hit so hard with that last flare, it's absolutely for my son. I have no desire to leave him alone right now."

But for now, in her period of remission, Blair says she's "having the time of [her] life"—and that she hopes her story will bring comfort to others.

"I'm thrilled that I have some platform," she said. "By no means am I saying that I'm speaking for all people in this condition or any condition of chronic illness, I'm speaking my story, and that helps normalize one thing to open the door for other people to be comfortable in telling their stories. I'm thrilled to have this here."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles