Stem cell therapy for Lupus
Stem cell therapy may be one of the most promising new dimensions of medicine for the treatment of Lupus, especially for people who do not respond well to more traditional forms of treatment.
Physicians have been treating Lupus patients with mesenchymal stem cells for over ten years. One meta-analysis conducted by Liu S. et al. states that over eight studies have been conducted on the safety and efficacy of cell therapy for Lupus, with over 200 total participants.
“Evidence showed that Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) could improve the disease activity, proteinuria (reduction of protein in urine) and hypocomplementemia (marker to represent disease activity) in Lupus patients.” (3)
Although the meta-analysis does state that large scale and high-quality randomized controlled trials are required to validate the efficacy and safety of MSC treatment in SLE patients. (3)
A clinical study conducted by Jun Liang. et al. found that allogeneic stem cell therapy significantly reduced disease activity in Lupus patients.
The study included 15 patients with persistently active Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The outcome evaluated by changes in the SLE disease activity index (SLEDAI), serological features (anti-nuclear antibodies and anti-double-stranded DNA (anti-dsDNA)), renal function and percentage of peripheral blood regulatory T cells. (4)
What is Systemic lupus erythematosus?
Also known as Lupus, it is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune condition. Lupus can cause a wide range of responses from cold-like symptoms to organ failure. These can include; swelling, inflammation, damage to the skin, and vital organs. It is most commonly associated with the butterfly-shaped skin rash that develops on a person’s face. Lupus affects over 5 million people worldwide, and there is currently no cure.
What causes Lupus?
Lupus is typically caused by a genetic disposition mixed with environmental circumstances. People with a genetic predisposition may have a higher chance of lupus development if exposed to specific environmental components. Lupus is most often diagnosed in women between the ages of 15 and 45.
It is also possible to contract Lupus symptoms from certain prescription medications. According to Medical News Today:
Drugs that are commonly associated with this form of Lupus are:
- Hydralazine, a hypertension medication
- Procainamide, a heart arrhythmia medication
- Isoniazid, an antibiotic used to treat tuberculosis (TB)
Drug-induced Lupus usually disappears after the person discontinues the medication.
The immune system provokes symptoms
Most often, the immune system is used to protect the body from bacteria, viruses and other threats. In patients with autoimmune conditions such as Lupus, the immune system has trouble distinguishing healthy cells within the body from foreign antigens. This immune deficiency causes inflammation, pain and tissue damage. (1)
Symptoms of Lupus Disease
Cojocaru, M. et al. outlines these common manifestations of Lupus:
- Chest pain
- Hair loss
- Muscle & joint pain
- Sensitivity to sun
- Kidney issues
- Ulcer in the mouth
Symptoms can flare in response to sunlight, minor infections, and even prescribed medicines. Like other autoimmune disorders, Lupus triggers cells in the body to begin attacking the body itself. This autoimmune response causes large amounts of harmful inflammation in the body, which can quickly lead to more severe complications.
Although common symptoms are minor and treatable, such as rashes and joint pain, severe cases of Lupus can lead to organ failure. Lupus has shown the ability to cause failure of the kidneys, central nervous system, circulatory system, lungs, and heart.
Is there a cure for Lupus?
There has not been a cure found for Lupus, and it is treated today as most other autoimmune diseases. The patient may be prescribed a series of anti-inflammatory medications, corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and biologics. These potent medications have harmful side effects and often diminish a patient’s quality of life. In some instances, they are ineffective at reducing the symptoms present. However, recent studies and trials have shown significant positive results for the treatment of Lupus with mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs).
So how do Mesenchymal Stem Cells help Lupus?
Stem cells are naturally occurring immature cells with the unique ability to “differentiate,” or transform, into many other types of cells in the body. They typically find damaged cells and inflammation in the body and begin to repair and replace those cells. Everyone has stem cells in their bodies. However, our stem cells age over time and their numbers and effectiveness diminish as we get older.
Researchers have begun using mesenchymal stem cell transplants to treat autoimmune diseases. It was thought that supplementing the body with a high amount of new stem cells would boost a patient’s ability to fight inflammation and reduce symptoms caused by autoimmune disorders. Mesenchymal stem cells are sourced from bone marrow, donated cord tissue, or other tissues in the body. The benefit of using these cells is that they are readily available, the body does not reject them (do not require a donor match), and there is no need for chemotherapy to receive treatment. Additionally, MSCs are some of the most potent stem cells available for cellular therapy.
According to Liang et al., mesenchymal stem cells act as immunomodulators that can suppress the activity of T regulatory cells. MSCs may be associated with the expansion of T regulatory cells, which can suppress the activity of autoreactive T cells, which can play a crucial role in self-tolerance. (4)
(1) Brazier, Y. (2018, November 12). Lupus: Causes, symptoms, and research. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323653.php#types.
(2) Cojocaru, M., Cojocaru, I.M., Silosi, I., Vrabie, C.D. (2011). Manifestations of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Maedica: A Journal of Clinical Medicine; 6(4): 330-336.
(3) Liu, S., Guo, Y. L., Yang, J. Y., Wang, W., & Xu, J. (2018, December 18). Efficacy of mesenchymal stem cells on systemic lupus erythematosus: a meta-analysis. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30562774.
(4) Liang, J., Zhang, H., Hua, B., Lu, L., Shi, S., Hou, Y., … Sun, L. (2010, August 1). Allogenic mesenchymal stem cells transplantation in refractory systemic lupus erythematosus: a pilot clinical study. Retrieved from https://ard.bmj.com/content/69/8/1423.long.
About the author
Louis A. Cona, MD
Medical Director | DVC Stem
Dr. Cona has been performing stem cell therapy for over 10 years. He is a member of the World Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (WAAAM). He is also a recognized member of the British Medical Association, the General Medical Council (UK), the Caribbean College of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Family Physicians. He is the Medical Director for DVC Stem a world-renowned stem cell therapy clinic located in Grand Cayman.