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First Canadian clinical trial studying ability of mesenchymal stem cells to treat multiple sclerosis

Left to Right: Christina Weise, Chief Executive Officer of Research Manitoba; Lizelle Mendoza, individual who lives with MS; Dr. James Marriott, PI, Winnipeg site, MESCAMS, assistant professor, U of M; Lindsay Gullin, MS Society of Canada; Yves Savoie, President and CEO, MS Society of Canada

First Canadian clinical trial studying ability of mesenchymal stem cells to treat multiple sclerosis

Researchers enrolling participants at sites in Winnipeg and Ottawa

January 29, 2015 — 

The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and the Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation announced today a $4.2 million grant  in support of the MEsenchymal Stem cell therapy for CAnadian MS patients (MESCAMS) study led by Dr. Mark S. Freedman (Ottawa Hospital Research Institute / University of Ottawa), who is also the principal investigator at the Ottawa site, along with the principal investigator of the Winnipeg site  Dr. James J. Marriott (University of Manitoba) and colleagues. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) – found in many places in the body including the bone marrow, skin and fat – have been demonstrated to suppress inflammation and repair nerve tissue, positioning them as promising candidates for the treatment of MS. As a number of pioneering small studies have established the safety of administering MSC in humans, the excitement surrounding MESCAMS is profound. Taking place at two Canadian sites – located at The Ottawa Hospital and Health Sciences Centre (HSC) Winnipeg – MESCAMS will provide more definitive answers regarding the use of MSC to treat persons living with MS.

“The MS Society of Canada is proud to be investing in the first Canadian clinical trial studying the ability of mesenchymal stem cells to treat multiple sclerosis,” says Yves Savoie, president and CEO, MS Society of Canada. “As Canada has the highest rate of the MS in the world, we are excited that Canadian researchers are among the leaders in developing a novel and effective cell-based treatment for individuals with all forms of this unpredictable disease – which would be a major breakthrough in the MS research community.”

“When I was diagnosed with a highly aggressive form of multiple sclerosis, I was told that my treatment options were limited and that there was a good chance I would eventually wind up in a wheelchair,” says Alex Normandin. “As a result of my participation in a previous stem cell clinical trial, led by Dr. Freedman and his team using a different type of stem cell, the progression of my disease has been arrested, I was able to return to medical school and am now able to practice the career I love as a fully licensed family physician. Stem cell research has given me my life back,” he continues, “and there is still so much more to be learned. I am excited by the news of MESCAMS and I look forward to seeing what other life changing therapies may result from future work in the area of stem cells.”

MESCAMS is part of a larger, international research effort studying MSC, led by Dr. Freedman and his Co-lead Principal Investigator Dr. A. Uccelli (Genoa, Italy). The international effort will allow for scientific resources to be pooled and offer expertise from nine countries worldwide undertaking parallel research. This effort will also assist in developing an international consensus on safe protocols for MSC treatment.

“Canada, with its two specialized stem cell clinical trial sites, is perched to make a huge contribution of twenty-five per cent of participants within the international collaboration,” says Dr. Mark S. Freedman. “Together with our colleagues around the world, we will be able to arrive at answers more quickly in terms of the promise that mesenchymal cells hold in their ability for repair in MS – something that those living with this disease are most hopeful for.”

“We are excited to be able to offer this new clinical trial to Manitobans with MS,” says Dr. James J. Marriott. “This is a promising area and we hope this study will demonstrate the safety and feasibility of this therapy, and ultimately lead to further research and new treatments.”

MESCAMS will put to test the remarkable potential of MSC for reducing harmful inflammation and promoting healing of injured tissue as well as fully determine their safety profile in individuals with MS.  A total of 40 study participants (20 per site) will receive intravenous treatment of their own bone marrow extracted MSC at either the start of the study or at 24 weeks. Those who do not receive MSC will instead receive a mock solution; this is done to determine if the effects of the stem cells are real or attributed to a placebo effect. Unlike previous studies involving transplantation of hematopoietic stem cells to re-boot the immune system, there is no requirement for chemotherapy in MESCAMS. As well, there is no concern regarding rejection of the cells as they are harvested from the individuals receiving the treatment (i.e. they are autologous stem cells). The trial is expected to begin in early 2015. For further details regarding study eligibility and enrollment, the public may visit:

The grant announced by the MS Society of Canada and the Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation for MESCAMS is also supported by proud funders Research Manitoba ($1.5 million) and A&W Food Services of Canada Inc.  ($1 million).

“Research Manitoba welcomes the opportunity to support the search for new treatment options and advance research in the area of multiple sclerosis” says Dr. Brian Postl, Chair, Research Manitoba. “We are proud of the dedicated researchers and participants and are pleased to support this partnership within the MS research community.”

“Over the past five years our guests and our franchised operators have been incredibly supportive of our annual Cruisin’ to End MS fundraising campaign,” says Paul Hollands, president and CEO, A&W Food Services of Canada Inc. “We are delighted to see resources raised through this campaign supporting world leading research which offers real hope to people living with MS.”

About multiple sclerosis, the MS Society of Canada and the Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation

Canada has the highest rate of multiple sclerosis in the world. MS is a chronic, often disabling disease of the central nervous system comprising the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve. It is one of the most common neurological diseases affecting young adults in Canada. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40, and the unpredictable effects of MS last for the rest of their lives. The MS Society provides services to people with MS and their families and funds research to find the cause and cure for this disease. The Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation funds large, innovative, multi-centre collaborative studies that will lead to major advances in the field of MS. A unique Canadian resource, the Foundation’s main funding source is the MS Society of Canada. Please visit or call 1-800-268-7582 to make a donation or for more information.

Join the conversation and connect with the MS community online. Find the MS Society on Twitter, Instagram or like our page on Facebook.

About the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute is the research arm of The Ottawa Hospital and is an affiliated institute of the University of Ottawa, closely associated with its faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences. The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute includes more than 1,700 scientists, clinical investigators, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and staff conducting research to improve the understanding, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human disease. Support our research. Give to the Tender Loving Research campaign.

About Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg

Health Sciences Centre (HSC) Winnipeg is the largest healthcare centre in Manitoba. An interdisciplinary team of nearly 8,000 staff and volunteers serves people in Manitoba, northwestern Ontario and Nunavut. HSC is the designated Trauma Centre for Manitoba, as well as the centre for transplants, burns, neurosciences and pediatric care. Highly skilled teams of professional staff provide acute and continuing care. An operating division of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, HSC provides comprehensive diagnostic, outpatient (ambulatory) and inpatient services that support the physical, medical and emotional needs of the people and communities it serves. Learn more at

About Research Manitoba

Research Manitoba promotes, supports, and coordinates the funding of research in the health, natural and social sciences, engineering and the humanities in Manitoba. Research Manitoba was established in June 2014 as a new provincial research funding organization that brought together Manitoba’s existing research funding sources (the Manitoba Health Research Council (MHRC), the Manitoba Research and Innovation Fund, the Health Research Initiative, and the Manitoba Centres of Excellence Fund). Research Manitoba advises the Minister of Jobs and the Economy on matters related to research and from moneys received from the Province, provides funds for research through a number of grants and awards programs. For more information, visit

Media contacts:

Lindsay Gulin
MS Society of Canada
416-922-6600 ext. 3245
lindsay [dot] gulin [at] mssociety [dot] ca

Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
613-798-5555 x 73325
jganton [at] ohri [dot] ca

David Hultin
HSC Winnipeg
dhultin [at] exchange [dot] hsc [dot] mb [dot] ca

Kristen Hooper
Research Manitoba
kristen [dot] hooper [at] researchmb [dot] ca


Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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