Stem cell lupus studies claim that they have achieved landmark success with an experimental approach, using a patient’s own stem cells, to fight the life-threatening autoimmune disease lupus. Lupus (sle) stem cell transplant substantially improved the condition of about half of the lupus patients, all of whom had stopped responding to standard therapy. These studies 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. (Source: Journal reference: Journal of the American Medical Association (DOI: 10.1001_JAMA.295.5.527)

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 for 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.


What is the lupus stem cell transplant procedure?


The lupus stem cell transplant procedure is similar to that done to treat some forms of cancer. The patients’ own bone marrow stem cells are harvested from their blood. These cells, which can become different kinds of blood and immune system cells in the body, are then separated from the other blood cells. Next, in a process that usually requires a few weeks of hospitalization, patients’ immune systems are virtually destroyed through high doses of chemotherapy. Then the cleansed stem cells are returned to the bone marrow to repopulate the marrow and body in an effort to regenerate a healthier immune system. (Source:


Stem cell research lupus survival rate


Researchers have been trying stem cell transplant lupus therapies to fight lupus. Of the patients who received this full treatment, the overall five-year survival was 84% and the probability of disease-free survival during those five years was 50%. Other studies have reported a treatment-related mortality rate of 2%. (Source: Liang J, et al “Allogenic mesenchymal stem cells transplantation in refractory systemic lupus erythematosus: a pilot clinical study” Ann Rheum Dis 2010; 69: 1423-1429.)