Can Stem Cells Be Used To Treat Lupus?

Under normal circumstances, your body’s immune system protects you from germs, bacteria, and viruses. However, when a person is diagnosed with Lupus or Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, their body can’t differentiate between the good and the bad and mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissues and organs. The symptoms of this autoimmune disease vary from person to person, depending on which part of your body is being attacked. It can be in the form of dry eyes, tiredness, fever, swelling, and pain in joints, breathing difficulty, chest pain, headaches, memory loss, or skin lesions. Inflammations caused by Lupus can even affect your kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs.

Current medication for Lupus is costly, and the treatment changes with any new symptoms that develop. Thus, finding the right treatment could even take years, with the added risk of adverse side effects to the treatments carried out.

In this regard, stem cells, with their ability to develop into different types of cells, have the potential to provide some hope and relief to lupus warriors. Physicians in China have identified over 200 patients who have been unresponsive to standard treatment1. These patients were given mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) treatments, and over 75% of them saw reduced symptoms for up to 2 years. A follow-up with 81 patients was conducted in year 5 where 54% were in either complete or partial remission of the disease. Even after 6 years, this stem cell therapy is still safe and effective with no severe effects.

Another clinical trial2 in South Carolina, USA, involved 6 patients with SLE, who were given injections of MSCs, which were from the umbilical cord. Their focus was on the types of T-cells and B-cells which impact the function of the immune system. In 2 years, the activity of B-cells was controlled. There were fewer abnormal memory B-cells and more non-reactive B-cells in 4 patients. In 2 patients, there were slightly more T-cells. Phase 1 of this trial found that MSC treatment could directly benefit Lupus, and a Phase 2 trial has been launched to take the investigations forward.

While stem cells can be derived from bone marrow or the umbilical cord, researchers favour those from the umbilical cord for several reasons:

  • Supply of 10 times more stem cells when compared to bone marrow
  • MSCs from the umbilical cord have immunosuppressors and immunomodulatory properties that allow them to use it in any individual without rejection (HLA matching not necessary)
  • More proliferation ability than adult stem cells
  • Higher regeneration rate
  • They are young and adaptive
  • Age hasn’t changed them
  • They can be administered multiple times over a few days
  • No pain and recovery needed when compared to collecting stem cells from fat or hip bone

Since stem cells found in the umbilical cord blood show immense promise in treating Lupus and several other diseases, more and more parents are turning to the banking of stem cells via cord blood banking.