Stem cell therapy for multiple sclerosis in 5 years
The global trial led by British scientists will investigate whether the stem cells can slow, stop and even reverse damage to the brain and spinal cord caused by MS.
In the trial, the participants, including 13 in the UK, will have stem cells harvested from their own bone marrow and grown in a laboratory before being re-injected into the bloodstream.
MS is caused by the immune system attacking a protective substance around nerve fibres called myelin. Where this happens scars, called lesions, are left behind.
Thousands of people worldwide suffer from this condition which has symptoms such as dizziness and lack of balance, muscle spasms and blurred vision. It tends to get worse over time and there is no cure.
The hypothesis is that the stem cells will target these lesions and repair the damage, a newspaper reported.
Paolo Muraro, lead researcher on the study, based at Imperial College, London, said: "This is the first time that researchers from around the world have come together to test stem cell therapies in MS in such a large-scale clinical trial.
"A trial of this scale would be impossible to run in one location which is why this type of collaboration is essential if we are to make progress in this field."
The trial will last between three and five years.
In recent years many people living with MS have been attracted to overseas stem cell clinics which claim to cure long-term conditions in exchange for large amounts of money.
However there is no proven stem cell therapy available for MS anywhere in the world.
It is hoped these new trials will eventually lead to a proven treatment and a reduction in the draw of overseas treatments.
Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the MS Society, said: "Stem cells hold tremendous potential as a future treatment option for people with MS."
Sir Richard Sykes, chairman of the UK Stem Cell Foundation, said: "Given the high incidence of MS in the UK in comparison to other countries, I am delighted that we have at last progressed stem cell research to this stage, which will bring much-needed hope to so many people affected by this devastating condition."
In 2009 American researchers reported they had managed to improve the symptoms of three MS patients using stem cells derived from fat.
The treatment appeared to stop seizures in one 50-year-old man, who had previously suffered about 200 a year.
The symptoms of the three people continued to improve almost a year after the stem cell injections, suggesting a long-lasting effect.