Blood Stem Cell Transplantation and Autoimmune Diseases

Study of Lupus Patient Confirms Promise of Stem Cell Transplant Therapy

Findings Indicate Need for Wider Clinical Trials

For patients with severe autoimmune diseases, blood stem cell transplantation may be promising therapy option. This process involves an infusion of healthy blood cells to replace the body`s own malfunctioning ones and restore immune function. A recent case study, published in the June 2002 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, has shown this approach to be particularly effective in treating patients with the most serve form of Systematic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE).

A chronic rheumatic disease, SLE affects joints, muscles, kidneys, lungs, and other parts of the body by autoimmune attack. In the case of an 18-year-old female patient, a short, intensive course of blood stem cell transplant produced complete remission of the disease. Diagnosed with SLE at age 14, the patient had suffered bouts of pneumonia, requiring ventilation and resulting in serious lung impairment. Failing to respond to conventional drug therapy, she also continually battled infections, weight loss, and anemia. In February 2000, the young woman began the blood stem cell transplant therapy, as part of a study at the University of Vienna. She repeatedly received infusions of high dose immunosuppressive agents followed by stem cells purified on the basis of a protein on the surface of cells called CD34. Within 9 days of receiving her transplant, the patient`s blood cells began to regenerate-completely free of disease.

Fifteen months after completing her blood stem cell transplant regimen, the patient had maintained overall excellent health-without taking any medication. She showed no signs of SLE-related problems. Her lung, kidney, and ovarian functions were all normal. In addition, she had fully intact function on a standard measure of a person`s ability to perform routine activities.

There have been numerous studies indicating the potential of blood stem cell transplants for patients with blood diseases and certain types of cancer. To date, researchers have studied only a small number of patients undergoing this therapy for autoimmune diseases. Consequently, the case of this young SLE patient is significant because it confirms blood stem cell transplantation as a potentially effective course of action for restoring healthy immune function. Researchers at the University of Vienna are currently conducting clinical trials to explore wider use of this therapy, as well as ways to apply it in the early stages of disease to prevent organ damage

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