Lupus can be unpredictable, with symptoms that physicians frequently mistake for other illnesses. Since the condition causes the immune system to attack its organs and tissues, it can affect any area in the body, including the skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, joints, and lungs. While some patients are more likely to develop lupus, the cause is unknown in most cases. However, regardless of the cause, treatments can help to manage symptoms. Here we will discuss what you need to know about Regenerative Medicine for Lupus!
What Is Lupus?
Lupus is a chronic or long-term autoimmune disease that can affect any body area. The signs and symptoms of lupus vary widely, depending on the organs or tissues that the immune system attacks. Most patients with lupus experience some of the disease’s most common indications, which include:
Joint pain, swelling, or stiffness
A butterfly-shaped rash on the face
Shortness of breath
Since each case of lupus presents differently, patients often struggle to receive a diagnosis. In addition, lupus often causes flare-ups, where the symptoms worsen for some time before improving or disappearing.
The severity of lupus and the health conditions resulting from the disease depends on the system attacked during a flare-up.
What Is Regenerative Medicine?
Regenerative medicine aims to manage a condition’s root cause rather than manage its symptoms. By combining biology and engineering principles, regenerative medicine develops new treatments focusing on replacing and repairing damaged cells, tissues, and organs.
How Can Regenerative Medicine Treat Lupus?
Lupus and other autoimmune diseases may benefit from stem cells that can help boost the body’s ability to fight inflammation and regulate the immune system.
The Lupus Foundation of America (LFA) has funded a Phase II trial with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study adult stromal cells for treating moderate to severe lupus.
The study hopes to identify if stem cell therapy can lessen the long-term effects associated with lupus, reduce the need for medications, and stop the condition from damaging vital organs.
In the study’s Phase I trial, participants experienced significantly decreased lupus disease activity and sustained that reduction for 52 weeks. In addition, patients were able to reduce or maintain lower levels of steroids to manage their symptoms.
The Phase II trial will work with a much larger pool of patients in hopes of producing consistent results. As stem cell therapies and other regenerative medicine treatments continue to offer safe and effective results, those struggling with chronic conditions like lupus may finally find relief in this new blend of biology and engineering.
Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue and organs. It’s characterized by widespread inflammation which can appear in different areas of the body, including the skin, joints, blood cells, kidneys, brain, heart, and lungs. Oftentimes, lupus is challenging to diagnose, as its symptoms can vary widely and mimic other conditions. Receiving a diagnosis can bring relief in some ways, as it puts a name to an array of frustrating symptoms. Yet, it also means you’ll have to adapt to living with a chronic illness. Here are some tips for learning to live with Lupus.
Learn About Lupus
Everyone experiences lupus differently, which can make learning about lupus challenging. With that being said, there are helpful resources such as The Lupus Foundation of America to help you find out more about the condition.
You may have been experiencing an array of strange and uncomfortable symptoms that come and go. During lupus flares, symptoms such as rash, swollen joints, sores or ulcers, and fever can intensify. You’ll want to start tracking conditions leading up to flares to see if they occur in a pattern and an identifiable trigger brings them on. For instance, flares often arise after emotional or physical stress, as well as exhaustion, injury, and viral illnesses.
Find the Right Doctor
Since lupus is fairly rare, most general practitioners don’t see patients with the condition very often. To ensure you have access to the right treatment, you’ll want to see a specialist. Most people with lupus visit a rheumatologist, who specializes in systemic autoimmune diseases.
Once you’ve found a reputable doctor, you’ll want to discuss wellness strategies and treatment options. Your treatment approach may evolve, so know that you don’t have to explore all options right away. You might also consider adopting lifestyle strategies to help control symptoms, such as beginning a meditation practice to limit emotional stress.
Online support groups are rich with resources and firsthand accounts. Within these groups, you might be able to connect with someone whose symptoms are similar to yours and discuss treatment options that worked for them. You can also discuss the emotional and mental challenges that come with living with a chronic illness and turn to people who are ready to lend an ear. Lupus Warriors on Facebook, LupusConnect, and Lupus Research Alliance are a few options to consider.
Maintain Ongoing Care
You’ll want to visit your rheumatologist regularly, even if you aren’t having frequent flare-ups. With blood work and regular conversations, the doctor may be able to help you pinpoint which treatments and lifestyle modifications are working effectively to control flares. They might also help you explore complementary and alternative treatments to manage symptoms.
Many have begun to seek regenerative medicine, also known as stem cell therapy, as an alternative option for managing symptoms. Stem cells are considered the building blocks of life since they have the ability to self-renew and differentiate into specialized cell types. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can be sourced from autologous or allogeneic tissues and act as immunomodulators that suppress the activity of T regulatory cells.
Since lupus impacts your immune system, you’ll also want to take care to minimize your risk for other illnesses. This includes staying up-to-date with vaccines and exams. If you live with lupus it will require some adjustments, most patients can live fulfilling, happy lives after their diagnosis. By learning more and finding the right care providers, you can begin taking control of your lupus and your overall health. Contact a Care Coordinator today for a free assessment!
Lupus is a long-term illness which can lead to inflammation and pain in any part of the body. As an autoimmune condition, lupus is characterized by an immune response in which the body mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. Oftentimes, the condition affects the skin and joints. In serious cases, it can also affect the internal organs, such as the kidneys and heart. Common symptoms include rash, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes.
There is currently no cure for lupus, though medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs and immune-suppressants are used to control symptoms. In severe cases, cytotoxic drugs may be prescribed. These medications target and destroy cells that grow at a rapid rate. In the case of autoimmune conditions, the hyperactive immune system produces autoantibodies too rapidly, and the medications may help to control this response.
Unfortunately, drugs such as cytotoxic medicines have a number of unfavorable side effects, including toxic effects on the blood and immune systems. Patients become more vulnerable to infections such as pneumonia, and hair loss is a common side effect.
Frustratingly, lupus can be a painful and debilitating illness, and patients are left with few treatment options. Moreover, not all patients respond to medications as desired.
Stem Cell Therapy for Lupus
Any successful therapy for lupus should help to control the flare of symptoms and balance the body’s immune response. While achieving this harmony has proven difficult with traditional therapies, recent research suggests stem cell treatment could hold the potential in helping to manage the symptoms of this autoimmune condition.
In particular, the intravenous administration of a patient’s own stem cells could help to regulate the body’s immune response, restoring function in the organs affected by the illness while simultaneously minimizing or eliminating the need for certain medications.
Stem cells can give rise to virtually any cell tissue within the body. They also have the ability to repair damaged tissue because they have the ability to multiply. Within recent years, studies involving stem cell therapy have been performed, offering immense promise to patients with autoimmune conditions seeking alternative treatment options. Contact a Care Coordinator today for a free assessment!
Systemic lupus erythematosus, also known as SLE or lupus, is a chronic inflammatory condition that can affect almost every organ in the body. Commonly, patients with lupus suffer from fatigue, fever, muscle pains, and fluctuations in weight. Perhaps the most noticeable feature of lupus is a butterfly rash that affects the nose and cheeks. In its most severe form, lupus can be life-threatening. As many as half of all patients with systemic lupus erythematosus experience some sort of kidney involvement. One feared manifestation of lupus is an inflammation of the kidney called lupus nephritis. Patients can also experience blood clots in the arteries and veins, and serious inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, lungs, and/or heart.
There is no cure for lupus. The goals of treatment are to reduce the severity of lupus symptoms, prevent damage to organs, and improve patient quality of life. Many treatments for lupus are merely preventive. For example, patients with lupus know that staying out of the sun or using sunscreen can help prevent skin rashes that often occur during the disease. Unfortunately, the treatments that are commonly used for SLE cause serious side effects. For example, steroids can help control flares, but they are not suitable for long-term use. Immunosuppressants are sometimes helpful, but they can increase a patient’s risk of infection. Newer biologics such as belimumab and rituximab are more selective treatments, but are not helpful for most patients and remain relatively expensive.
Not surprisingly, many patients with systemic lupus erythematosus are unsatisfied with their current treatments. This is frustrating for patients, families, and doctors. Thus, researchers have started testing stem cell therapy to determine if this novel treatment could be effective for treating lupus.
In one such clinical study, scientists collected mesenchymal stem cells from umbilical cord tissue (the substance that usually gets thrown away as medical waste after a baby is born). They then infused the purified stem cells into patients with SLE who had a difficult-to-treat disease (i.e., patients had failed to find relief of SLE symptoms from standard treatments or had life-threatening complications from the condition). The scientists then followed the patients for about eight months on average, though some patients were followed for as many as 28 months after stem cell treatment.
Patients treated with mesenchymal stem cells showed dramatic improvements in a measure of lupus disease activity called the SLEDAI. In fact, patients enjoyed significant improvements in as little as one month after mesenchymal stem cell treatment. This effect lasted for up to two years in some patients. Moreover, patients treated with umbilical cord-derived stem cells had improvements in kidney function and lost less protein in their urine. Impressively, patients treated with stem cells showed improvements in various markers associated with active lupus including serum antinuclear antibody (ANA), anti-double-stranded DNA (anti‐dsDNA) antibody, serum complement C3 and C4, and albumin levels. Patients with lupus know that these blood markers are used to track the severity of the condition.
While one person had severe nausea during stem cell infusion, this passed quickly, and no other treatment-related side effects occurred. In fact, stem cell treatment was well tolerated by all patients in the study. These remarkable results will, of course, need to be repeated and verified in larger clinical trials. Nevertheless, the dramatic improvements seen with umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells in patients with difficult-to-treat lupus are impressive. While more work needs to be done, patients and doctors are now looking toward stem cell treatments in the hope that this terrible disease can finally be treated effectively.
Reference: Lingyun, S. et al. (2010). Umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cell transplantation in severe and refractory systemic lupus erythematosus. Wiley Online Library. 2010 https://doi.org/10.1002/art.27548.
Systemic lupus erythematosus or simply “lupus” is a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect almost every organ and tissue in the body. Most people are aware of chronic fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and a characteristic facial skin rash that occurs in people with lupus. However, the disease can affect the gastrointestinal tract, lungs, heart, eyes, lymph nodes, and brain. About half of all people with lupus will develop problems in their kidneys related to the disease. The most common kidney problem caused by lupus is a condition known as lupus nephritis.
Lupus nephritis may not cause any outward symptoms, though some patients report foamy urine. Physicians usually detect lupus nephritis during routine urinalysis. Lupus nephritis causes the kidneys to leak substantial amounts of protein in the urine. Over time, this protein loss can cause swelling in the hands, ankles, and feet, and may interfere with kidney function.
The main way in which lupus nephritis is treated is by using strong immunosuppressants such as glucocorticoids (“steroids”; prednisone), cyclophosphamide or mycophenolate mofetil. These immunosuppressing drugs can cause a number of serious and perhaps permanent side effects. Making matters worse, some people with lupus continue to have worsening lupus nephritis even after using these immunosuppressive drugs. In these cases, there is very little that can be done to treat the disease.
In order to help this group of individuals for whom regular treatments did not stop lupus nephritis from progressing, researchers conducted a clinical trial to test the effect of stem cells on this illness. Researchers collected allogeneic mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow and umbilical cord tissue. They then infused the stem cells in 81 patients with lupus nephritis and followed them for 12 months. Amazingly, 60.5% of patients enjoyed remission of their kidney disease by the 12-month visit. Kidney function (glomerular filtration rate; GFR) significantly improved in patients treated with mesenchymal stem cells. Likewise, total lupus disease activity (not just lupus nephritis) improved significantly 12 months after treatment. These improvements were so profound that patients were able to reduce their doses of prednisone and other immune-suppressing drugs. Importantly, the stem cells did not cause any apparent adverse effects.
If this work can be confirmed in subsequent clinical trials, it is exciting news for patients with lupus, especially those with lupus nephritis. This work suggests that stem cells may be able to reduce the doses of immunosuppressants currently used to treat lupus nephritis, and it may even stop the progression of this terrible illness in some patients. We eagerly await additional clinical research in this area.
Reference: Gu F et al. (2014). Allogeneic mesenchymal stem cell transplantation for lupus nephritis patients refractory to conventional therapy. Clinical Rheumatology. 2014 Nov;33(11):1611-9.
Wharton’s jelly is a rather unique body fluid. It is the connective tissue found within the umbilical cord. While Wharton’s jelly is connective tissue, it more closely resembles gelatin. Historically this material was discarded as medical waste; however, Wharton’s jelly has been shown to contain a number of therapeutic substances. Among these healing substances found within Wharton’s jelly is an abundant supply of mesenchymal stem cells.
One of the most intriguing features of Wharton’s jelly is that it contains a virtually limitless supply of mesenchymal stem cells. There are about 4 million new births in the United States each year, 5 million in the European Union, and over 100 million worldwide. The potential pool of cells is staggering when you consider only a small amount of Wharton’s jelly can contain millions of stem cells. Notably, Wharton’s jelly is usually discarded after the delivery of a healthy baby. If this material could be donated instead of discarded, researchers believe they have found an abundant, renewable resource from which to draw mesenchymal stem cells.
However, the abundance of Wharton’s jelly is not the most impressive feature of the substance. The stem cells found in Wharton’s jelly are rather unique. Perhaps most importantly, the cells are immuno-privileged. This means they are not readily recognized by the immune system. Consequently, the stem cells can be taken from the umbilical cord, purified, and then injected into a patient with little risk of the patient having an immune reaction to the cells. These particular mesenchymal stem cells are also interesting because they are relatively “primitive,” which means they have some of the same properties of embryonic stem cells. However, Wharton’s jelly can be obtained without controversy, while harvesting embryonic stem cells from aborted tissue remain highly controversial.
Stem cells taken from Wharton’s jelly are already being used in some clinical studies. For example, researchers in one clinical study injected type 2 diabetes patients with Wharton’s jelly-derived mesenchymal stem cells. Within six months of treatment, 7 of 22 patients became insulin-free and 5 were able to reduce the amount of insulin they needed by more than 50%. Only one patient out of the 22 did not respond to the stem cells at all. The cells have also been tested in systemic lupus erythematosus, better known as simply lupus. Forty patients received Wharton’s jelly mesenchymal stem cells intravenously. Thirteen patients enjoyed a major clinical response while 11 enjoyed a partial clinical response of their lupus symptoms.
As more clinical studies are done on Wharton’s jelly-derived mesenchymal stem cells, we will learn what other diseases can be treated with this once-discarded substance. Early indications show a very promising future.
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