Lupus and Stem Cell Therapy
Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body including the skin, joints, and/or organs, such as your kidneys.
In lupus, something goes wrong with your immune system, the part of the body that fights off viruses, bacteria, and germs. Normally our immune system produces proteins called antibodies that protect the body from these invaders. Autoimmune means your immune system cannot tell the difference between these foreign invaders and your body’s healthy tissues and creates autoantibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue. These autoantibodies cause inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body.
Lupus is also a disease of flares (the symptoms worsen and you feel ill) and remissions (the symptoms improve and you feel better).
It’s believed that 5 million people throughout the world have some form of lupus. It can range from mild to life-threatening and should always be treated by a doctor. With good medical care, most people with lupus can lead a full life but not one without fear of being sick.
Only one drug is available that was developed specifically to treat lupus, which took 50 years to develop and it doesn’t work for everyone. Some treatments for lupus may include immunosuppressant drugs that are also used in chemotherapy.
Stem Cell Therapy for Lupus
Stem cell therapy holds great promise as a safe and effective alternative for people with lupus who do not benefit from the current treatments available.
Mesenchymal stem cell research has provided hope to people with formerly incurable and devastating conditions including lupus, Parkinson’s disease, leukemia, heart diseases, multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes and osteoarthritis, as well as 80 other diseases.
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) are derived from bone marrow, umbilical cords or other tissues and are anti-inflammatory. These anti-inflammatory cells have unique properties that make them attractive as therapy for autoimmune diseases. Unlike other stem cells, they lack the properties that enable the immune system to detect them as being foreign. This means donors and recipients do not have to match for treatment to be successful, reducing the risk of rejection.
About Stem Cells
Stem cells possess the potential to develop into many different types of cells in the body. They serve as a repair system for the body. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are found in mature tissues that have already developed. The body uses these cells to replace other cells that die off throughout the normal course of life. They are not from fetal tissues and thus do not have the same ethical concerns or restrictions that embryonic stem cells do.
MSCs have been studied in inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma. In these studies, MSC treatment has been found to be effective with only minimal side effects.
Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Lupus
Pioneering research of MSC treatment in China with over 200 lupus sufferers showed:
- Three out of every four study participants benefited from treatment, a higher response rate than current treatments for lupus.
- Disease activity in the participants was greatly reduced for as long as 24 months after treatment.
- Adverse reactions were rare, and there were no severe reactions to treatment.
While the findings are groundbreaking, there was no control group in these studies. This means that every participant received the stem cell treatment plus standard lupus therapies. A controlled trial is necessary to ensure that individuals who receive the MSC therapy plus standard lupus therapies do respond better than closely matched participants who only receive standard therapy.
More clinical trials and research continues, but overall, stem cell therapy has shown very promising results for lupus sufferers.