Stem cell transplantation for lupus

Stem cell transplantation is the replacement of damaged bone marrow cells with healthy cells, or stem cells. It is generally done after powerful drugs have been used to wipe out the damaged immune system (immunoablation).

Stem cells are immature cells that are produced in the bone marrow. They can divide to produce more stem cells or mature into red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. In an experimental procedure, a small number of people with lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE) have successfully been treated with their own stem cells.1

Stem cell transplantation has serious risks. After a person's stem cells have been collected from the bloodstream, they are returned to the bloodstream along with a stem cell growth factor. If successful, the stem cells help the bone marrow return to a healthy state. However, during the two weeks that the immune system requires to become strong again, the body is extremely vulnerable to life-threatening infection.

Although several people have been disease-free at about 25 months after stem cell transplantation, this procedure is considered a high-risk, expensive, and experimental treatment for lupus.1

Citations

  1. Wallace DJ (2002). Management of lupus erythematosus: Recent insights. Current Opinion in Rheumatology, 14(3): 212–219.

Last Updated: May 13, 2008

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