Stem Cell Therapies for Lupus


Lupus, formally known as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), is an autoimmune disease. The exact cause is unknown, and current treatments vary in regards to success. Current research is ongoing to determine the best treatment options. Stem cells have shown some promise in their early stages. The research is still in its beginning stages, and more research is needed to shed more light on the issue.

What is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus?

SLE is an autoimmune disorder, more commonly known as lupus. It can affect multiple organ systems and varies person-to-person. While the exact cause is unknown, it is believed that SLE is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack other parts of the body. It can manifest with skin changes, kidney problems, heart issues, and generalized symptoms like fatigue and fevers.

What are the current mainstay treatments?

Currently, treatment is aimed at suppressing the immune system so it does not attack the body. Basic therapy includes hydroxychloroquine, an immunosuppressant. Additional therapy includes oral glucocorticoids, otherwise known as steroids, high-dose intravenous glucocorticoids, and more intensive immunosuppressive agents like mycophenolate. The problems with current therapy, besides the various side effects of each medication, are that they suppress the immune system, as expected. However, the immune system is important to prevent and resolve infections. With a decreased immune system, people are more at risk to die from relatively simple infections.

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are cells that naturally occur in the body. Normally, different cells in the body can only become one type of cell. For example, some muscle cells can only become other muscle cells. However, stem cells are different. They are important because they have the ability to become many different types of cells. For example, one type of stem cell may become a skin cell, muscle cell, heart cell, etc.

How can stem cells help treat lupus?

Multipotent mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are a type of stem cell that has been researched in reference to SLE. MSCs are able to turn into bone cells, fat cells, cartilage cells, among other cell types. They have certain surface proteins that interact with different proteins found in the immune system. Particularly, researchers feel that MSCs target and ease the genetic drivers of tissue inflammation caused by immune responses. Scientists are hopeful that MSCs could target inflammation without suppressing the immune system, as current treatment does.

In the lab, MSCs were found to change the immune activity of different cell populations. T-cells and dendritic cells are important cells in the immune system. MSCs decrease T-cell numbers and inhibit the mechanisms that T-cells use to respond to immune system signals. MSCs also decrease the production of cells that cause an inflammatory reaction. MSCs also inhibit B-cell proliferation, another important cell in the immune system.

The next stage of research is being conducted on animal models. Much of this research has been done in animals with a condition similar to lupus called Murine lupus. This is also an autoimmune disease with genetic components. Other conditions being studied in these animals are arthritis and type-1 diabetes. Type-1 diabetes is also an autoimmune disease, and arthritis is a very common symptom of SLE. In these animals, MSC treatment improved kidney conditions secondary to murine lupus. It completely restored kidney function, which current treatment is
unable to do. However, this outcome was dependent on where the MSCs were taken from in regard to the type of genes that caused the lupus-like syndrome.

Lastly, stem cells taken from humans with SLE are being studied. MSCs from patients with SLE have been shown to have decreased bone-forming activity, are flatter than they should be, and grow slower than MSCs from others. They also found that SLE positive MSCs were more likely to increase T-cells. These MSCs were also more likely to die than control MSCs.

How can I learn more?

While research is still ongoing, stem cell therapy has been found to be beneficial to patients with SLE. At the Stem Cell Transplant Institute, we believe in delivering care according to the latest scientific research findings. If you would like to learn more about how stem cell therapy can help you reach your goals, contact us today.