Rebooting the immune system

Anne Scott, myasthenia gravis patient

Anne Scott had one wish: to live long enough to see her daughter get married in September 2001. Her odds didn’t look good. She had been on life support nine times in the past year.

“If I caught a cold or any respiratory infection, it could send me into a crisis,” said Scott.

The former nurse has an autoimmune condition called myasthenia gravis. This rare disorder interrupts the communication between her muscles and nerves, making breathing or swallowing difficult.

Usually this condition is quite treatable. But five years after she was first diagnosed, the standard methods had stopped working. So Anne’s neurologist, Dr. Elizabeth Pringle, referred her to Dr. Harold Atkins, who was using stem cells to restart the immune systems of patients with multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases.

In June 2001, Anne’s diseased immune system was wiped out with strong chemotherapy, followed by a transplant of her own stem cells. She made it to her daughter’s wedding, even though she was back in hospital a week later.

However, Anne started to notice a change six months after the transplant. Today, her myasthenia gravis is in remission.

“I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said. “I just hope that stem cells can go on to help others with incurable diseases.”

Anne is the first person in the world to undergo this stem cell treatment for severe myasthenia gravis. Six other myasthenia gravis patients have since received the treatment and no longer have symptoms.

These days, 58-year-old Scott enjoys spending time with her grandchildren and volunteering at the Kemptville District Hospital.