Stem cell transplantation for lupus patients was started back in 1996 and about 300 patients have received it worldwide up until 2016. About 50% of patients are disease free after five years even though they aren’t taking any drugs that calm down the immune system. The mortality rate is about 13%. With this type of results, what is seen is essentially an immune system reset. And that’s quite impressive.
What’s It Like to Have A Turnaround From Stem Cells for Lupus
A Swiss clinic website gives the testimonial of a man with lupus who is 40 years old. The man has progressed to the point where his doctor at the University of Michigan says that there’s nothing that can be done. He’s on high doses of steroids to prevent heart infections and is in a wheelchair. His lung capacity is at only 50%. And the steroids made him gain 70 pounds.
The man’s chiropractor mentioned that he should check out stem cell treatments and he does, despite skeptical (and know-it-all) nurses in the man’s family who tried to tell him the treatments were worthless. Every day he felt better and better. After 12 days, he could take long walks.
He continued the treatments for a year. The whole time he’s been in remission, never been back to the hospital and hasn’t even had a cold. His lung function is back to normal, he works out, and has not felt this good since childhood.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease. It can spread throughout the body and when it does it’s called systemic lupus erythematosis or SLE. Patients with systemic lupus have to deal with certain characteristics of the disease you should know about:
- Lupus generally hits women, not men. The age range it’s usually discovered is 15 to 45.
- One study found that women with SLE live 22 years less than those without SLE. Men with SLE live 12 fewer years. The cause of death is usually blood poisoning (from infection), high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes.
- Lupus can cause an early death when the disease affects organs. Patients may have severe attacks that require hospitalization.
- Lupus often attacks the kidneys.
- Corticosteroids and cyclophosphamide are the primary drugs given to lupus patients.
- Mesenchymal stem cells from lupus patients show defects in the production of cytokines.
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How Do Stem Cells Work for Lupus?
Stem cells are thought to modulate cells of the immune system as well as repair the area that’s been damaged. This means they turn down the immune system and not make it so reactive.
“Stem cells from lupus patients are not as effective as stem cells that are from someone else,” says Dr. Gary Gilkerson, M.D. of the Medical University of South Carolina. One single infusion (IV) of the cells is what was being used in a study that the Lupus Foundation of America started in 2016. You can see more at his stem cell video.
According to Dr. Gilkerson, a Chinese doctor (Dr. L. Sun) started stem cell treatments with lupus years ago and tested 100 different patients with the disease. The results were excellent and the patients were followed for 10 years. After that, many more doctors started using stem cells for lupus patients.
What Do The Stem Cells for Lupus Studies Show?
One of the most recent stem cell studies done in Beijing was reported in the medical journal called Clinical & Experimental Rheumatology. The doctors at the Peking Union Medical College treated the patients with the usual immunosuppressant drugs.
They also added autologous peripheral blood stem cell transplantation (the patients’ own stem cells) to the treatment. Patients joined the study between July 1999 and October 2015. The doctors then followed the health status, remission rates, and survival of 24 patients.
The results were quite amazing. Twenty-one of the patients (87.5%) achieved remission at the six-month mark. One patient passed away and another two patients had partial remission of their lupus. The patients’ kidneys improved as well, with a starting level of 4.0 grams/24 hours for protein in the urine but a level of zero at the end.
They estimated the 10-year overall survival rate and 10-year remission survival rate at 86%. The doctors suggested that stem cells be combined with current treatment to improve the survival of severe lupus patients.
Another study from China utilized human umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cell for the treatment of lupus nephritis, with 18 patients total. The patients were on IVs of immunosuppressant drugs before given the stem cell treatments. Remission occurred in 9 of 12 patients who showed improvement in kidney function.
However, the same amount of patients on the immunosuppressive drugs showed improvement. In this case, the doctors couldn’t decide whether or not it was the stem cells or the drugs that made the difference.
Stem Cell Treatments May Have Assisted in Bringing Babes into This World
Lupus patients often have difficulty getting pregnant. At the German Rheumatism Research Centre in Berlin, doctors reported on the fertility status and pregnancy outcomes of 15 patients with severe lupus. Six patients had difficulty getting pregnant because of disrupted hormones, older age, or due to the drugs they were taking.
Stem cell treatments corrected the hormonal imbalance of the lupus patients, and babies started being born. Four women had five pregnancies with six babies and zero miscarriages. None of them had any autoimmune flare-ups during the time they were pregnant and they all stayed in remission.
The doctors concluded that stem cell treatment offered the opportunity to conceive during treatment remissions with favorable pregnancy outcomes. And everyone was happy.
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Long-Term Safety of Stem Cells for Lupus
Doctors at the Nanjing University Medical School in China decided to assess the long-term safety of umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cell transplantation (from other people) in patients with severe SLE.
They used the 9 worst cases – those who couldn’t take steroids and immunosuppressive drugs and gave them the stem cells at the rate of one million allogeneic UC mesenchymal stem cells per kilogram body weight in an IV at days 0 and 7. The only side effect was one patient felt dizzy and hot five minutes after the IV; then his symptoms dissipated.
They checked various health parameters after the stem cell IVs six years later and everything was clear. The doctors concluded that the umbilical stem cell IVs from an outside source demonstrated a good safety profile in these SLE patients.