Stem cells have shown promise for treating a number of autoimmune diseases, where the immune system attacks the body. Lupus causes chronic inflammation as a result of immune system attack of the body’s tissues and organs and so is a reasonable candidate for stem cell therapy.
The cells of the immune system that tend to be attacked in lupus are bone marrow cells, so replacing these cells with stem cells could improve the inflammation that occurs in the disease. Recent research has shown that stem cells do in fact demonstrate an ability to help with lupus-like diseases. A recent paper published in Experimental Nephrology described the development of this research and some of the results.
The scientists who authored this recent paper had previously shown that bone marrow transplantation could be used to reconstruct the immune system in a way that could cure severe immunodeficiency, as well as other fatal diseases including forms of cancer and congenital abnormalities due to genetic disorders or problems with metabolism.
More recently, they have begun conducting stem cells transplants with a specific stem cell type called hematopoietic stem cells. These cells have been successfully used in oncology to treat cancers, and it was hypothesized that they could also be useful in autoimmune diseases like lupus.
An advantage to using these cells is that much of the work had already been done to determine how to best isolate the stem cells and how to perform transplantations with them. It is therefore not surprising that researchers successfully transplanted these cells during their research into the application of these cells in lupus-like diseases. Their results showed that hematopoietic stem cells could both prevent and cure a host of autoimmune problems that are related to lupus.
Though hematopoietic stem cell transplantation has been performed on patients since 1997 and is conducted in parts of Europe, as well as in China and Brazil, clinical trials in the United States are still underway. Further research will help to define the specific role of hematopoietic stem cells in potential treatment options for lupus and related diseases and to determine how to safely deploy these strategies.