Life-threatening lupus responds to stem cell transplant therapy

Transplanting patients with blood stem cells that originate from their own bone marrow can induce the remission of life-threatening, treatment-resistant lupus, according to a study that took place at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Researchers found that 50 percent of the 50 patients in the study had disease-free survival at five years with an overall five-year survival rate of 84 percent. The study is published in the February 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Lupus, an autoimmune disease in which immune cells attack an individual's own organs, affects an estimated 1.5 million people, mostly young females. "For this study, we enrolled patients who had either life- or organ-threatening lupus and had exhausted all available treatment options," says lead author Richard Burt, MD, chief, Division of Immunotherapy for Autoimmune Diseases, Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and associate professor of Medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. "We found that within an experienced center, high-dose chemotherapy and autologous stem cell transplant may be performed safely and result in disease remission and improvement or salvage of residual organ function in the majority of patients."

The study, which was launched in 1997 when Dr. Burt performed the country's first stem cell transplant to treat lupus, enrolled 50 patients from 20 states and ran through January 2005. The authors conclude that that the findings provide the justification to launch a randomized study that would compare autologous stem cell transplant with continued standard of care.

The stem cell transplant process used in the study is similar to that done to treat some forms of cancer. The patients' own bone marrow stem cells were harvested from their blood. These cells, which can become different kinds of blood and immune system cells in the body, were then separated from the other blood cells. Next, in a p

Contact: Amanda Widtfeldt
Northwestern Memorial Hospital

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