Every day Lucy Preston goes swimming in the clear water of a lake near her house in the picturesque town of Keswick in the state of Cumbria.
She cannot believe how happy she is, not least because until recently swimming was something she thought she would never do again.
The 36-year-old, who works in marketing, has multiple sclerosis, a condition in which the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord, which gradually leads to problems in the areas of mobility, balance and cognition. Lucy was diagnosed in 2012.
& # 39; It was a difficult time & # 39 ;, she recalls. & # 39; But finding a fire lit up under me. I quit my high-pressure job and moved from London to Cumbria because I had to be surrounded by nature in a beautiful place. & # 39;
Colette Beecher (left), 50 and Lucy Preston (right), 36, have seen huge improvements in their mobility since undergoing stem cell transplants
The couple lost mobility in their legs and were told by doctors that they were likely to become disabled. But the procedure, known as an autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplant, has given them a new lease of life
Initially, the treatment kept her symptoms at bay, but in 2016 she lost the use of her right leg. & # 39; I couldn't say where I placed it, so it was hard to walk & she says. & # 39; I felt empty and my entire right side was numb.
I was told that my illness was very active, which meant that I would be disabled sooner and that the medication didn't work. & # 39;
So it is nothing short of remarkable that Lucy has breathed new life into a new life today and faces a future without the threat of disability.
Her illness has stopped thanks to a radically new treatment – a stem cell transplant. & # 39; My partner calls me & # 39; Lucy 2.0 & # 39;, & # 39; she laughs. & # 39; It's like I'm a new version of me. It is difficult to describe what a change the treatment has made. The fog has been lifted. I now have a future that I thought I would not have. & # 39;
WINNING THE WAR … THANKS TO THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF LIFE
Stem cells are often called the building blocks of life, and scientists are increasingly convinced that treatments that use their power radically change medicine and offer therapies for everything from cancer to blindness and even paralysis.
These so-called master cells have an amazing power to change into a cell. They can reproduce endlessly and are an integral part of our body to grow and heal.
TREATMENT OF DISEASE … WITH STATES
Statins could be the newest weapon in the war against MS.
The pills can already reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, but now a large-scale clinical trial with 1,200 British patients is testing whether one of the cheapest statins, Simvastatin, which costs money, can also help people with one of the most debilitating forms from MRS.
The drugs are believed to protect the nerves from damage.
Stephen Ritchie, from Edinburgh, has seen his symptoms diminish since the start of the trial
One patient, Stephen Ritchie, from Edinburgh, has noticed an improvement since the start of the trial.
He says: & # 39; I play in the Edinburgh Chess League and for the test, my grade dropped all the time because I couldn't concentrate.
& # 39; Since November, when I started taking two tablets a day, I am more alert and can stay awake longer. My grade almost went back to what it was. & # 39;
Another study is to see if type 2 diabetes metformin can be a potential treatment for MS.
Principal investigator, neurologist professor Robin Franklin, says that metformin appears to & calibrate old stem cells in the brain, causing them to behave like young stem cells, stimulate and restore growth.
Human trials are expected to be launched shortly.
Experts say that people with MS will in the future receive a combination of therapies that both stop immune attacks and regenerate damaged nerves.
One of the most promising areas of research is their use in the treatment of MS. The disease, which affects around 100,000 people in the UK, occurs when the immune system turns in and affects the nerves and their protective coating. This causes inflammation, which ultimately affects the brain and spinal cord.
In some patients, flare-ups are followed by periods of remission, while others gradually worsen symptoms.
The treatment has mainly used drugs that dampen the immune system and alleviate discomfort. But what they have been unable to do so far is to stop the disease itself.
The new procedure, known as an autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplant, or AHSCT, involves harvesting the patient's own blood and bone marrow and extracting its stem cells before the body's immune system is wiped out with a high dose chemotherapy.
The stem cells are reinjected and the immune system is restarted & # 39; It means that nerve cells no longer come under fire, which means that MS cannot develop further.
In a recent study, 110 patients were divided into two groups. Of the 55 patients who received stem cell treatment, only six percent had relapsed after three years. In contrast, 60 percent of the 55 patients who received standard multiple sclerosis drugs experienced a relapse.
Professor Basil Sharrack, neurologist consultant at the NHS Foundation Trust at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, says: & # 39; If you treat the right patients – those with a lot of inflammation and aggressive disease – early enough, you will not only arrest the disease, but also further permanent damage to the brain and spinal cord. & # 39;
IT IS NOT A HEAT – BUT IT CAN HELP
The Mail on Sunday caught Lucy at a park in Manchester, where she met fellow human Patient – and recipient of stem cell transplants – Colette Beecher, 50. The couple appears to be a health photo as they share their stories.
Currently, AHSCT does not meet a cure for multiple sclerosis. The treatment cannot undo nerve damage or help them heal, so patients who have lost all their mobility are unlikely to regain it.
But both Lucy and Colette, an occupational therapist from Sheffield, have seen enormous improvements since they have undergone the procedure. Colette was diagnosed in 2011, after suffering from pins and needles in her hands, and problems with vision and coordination.
She says: & # 39; Because of my job I knew the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and I established myself before it was confirmed by a neurologist. And I knew the limitations that I could face, and that was scary.
& # 39; My illness was aggressive and the medication did not work. Two years after the diagnosis, I had lost strength on my left and found it difficult to open shower bottles or butter bread, and my walking was getting worse. It felt like my knee would give way.
& # 39; I saw a documentary in which AHSCT was mentioned and my neurologist asked if I could get it. & # 39;
Colette underwent treatment in 2016. & # 39; Eight months later I realized that one of my main symptoms – a tingling along my backbone – had disappeared. And my leg has stopped passing under me. My scans show no further signs of active disease, which is great. & # 39;
BUT THERE IS A LARGE DOWNSIDE …
While the chemotherapy drugs reject the immune system, patients remain vulnerable to infections and must remain in an isolation ward two weeks after the procedure. There is a small chance that the treatment itself can kill.
Although Lucy suffered from extreme nausea, depression, lost 8lb and her hair fell out during treatment, she says she doesn't regret it for a second. & # 39; Since then I have not had a single relapse, & # 39; she says. & # 39; I still have residual problems – weakness and numbness on my right side – but touch wood, this is as far as the disease will disappear. & # 39;
Colette, who is getting married next year, has lost her hair, but otherwise had a less debilitating experience. She says: & # 39; The treatment was so liberating – worth more than gold. I also have far fewer concerns for the future. & # 39;
Professor John Snowden, hematologist consultant at the NHS Foundation Trust at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, says: & # 39; This is a game changer in MS treatment. & # 39;
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