Can Stem Cell Therapy Help People with Systemic Lupis Erythematosus?

Lupis is an inflammatory condition that can profoundly affect every organ. Also referred to as systemic lupus erythematosus, this debilitating disease can cause serious symptoms, including:

  • Muscle pain
  • Fever
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Weight loss
  • A rash around the cheeks, mouth and face

While many people live with lupus for years, the condition can be fatal. Almost half of sufferers experience some form of kidney complication as a result of their lupus. Lupus nephritis is a serious inflammation of the kidney that can lead to the failure of the organ. Other life-threatening symptoms of lupus include blood clots and inflammation of the heart. 

What Are the Treatments for Lupus?

Sadly, there currently is no cure for lupus. That’s why any treatment programs for the disease involve the alleviation of the symptoms. Clinicians work hard with patients to minimize the chances of organ failure and maximize quality of life. 

Sufferers are given a wide range of dietary and lifestyle changes they must make after being diagnosed. For example, people with lupus are told to avoid direct sunlight wherever possible, as it can exacerbate the rashes caused by lupus. 

The main drugs used for the treatment of lupus symptoms often come with serious side effects. The likes of steroids and immunosuppressants can cause more serious symptoms than the disease itself. But immune-suppressing drugs can cause infections, and steroids are only ever a short-term fix for a long-term problem. 

There are relatively new medications being developed, including rituximab and belimumab, but they’re expensive and don’t address all of the most common lupus symptoms. 

Can Stem Cell Transplantation Alleviate Lupus Symptoms?

Understandably, many patients are not satisfied with the treatment options on offer. That’s why more and more sufferers are turning to alternative options such as stem cell therapy. 

One research study into the procedure’s effects on lupus symptoms involved the harvesting of stem cells from umbilical cord tissue. The purified stem cells were then administered to lupus sufferers with particularly serious, non-responsive lupus symptoms. Most participants in the trial were then followed for eight months after their treatment. However, a select few were tracked and monitored for close to 28 months after their stem cell transplant. 

The patients given the stem cells showed significant signs of improvements in the measure of the disease’s activity — SLEDAI. And some patients displayed these improvements just a few weeks after their treatment. There were a few patients who enjoyed less severe symptoms for up to two years.

There was also a marked increase in the kidney function of patients given mesenchymal stem cells from umbilical cord tissue. Kidney function improved, and there was significantly less protein in the urine of these patients. 

Other improvements recorded after the stem cell transplants included:

  • Improved serum antinuclear antibody levels
  • Improved anti-double-stranded antibody levels
  • Increased serum complement C3 and C4 levels
  • Increased albumin levels

These are all biological markers used to track the activity of lupus, and they all showed signs of improvement. 

Reference: Lingyun, S. et al. (2010). Umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cell transplantation in severe and refractory systemic lupus erythematosus. Wiley Online Library. 2010

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