Autoimmune diseases are numerous and difficult to treat. Lupus is one of the most common, affecting over 200,000 people a year and affecting their bodies and lifestyle. Now, a new study has become the first to effectively treat lupus in five patients, driving the illness into remission.
Researchers in Germany believe that their work marks a significant moment that could help treat other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, involved four women and one man, all between the ages of 18 to 24, who were severely sick with lupus. They received transfusions of modified immune cells, a procedure called CAR T-cell therapy, which has been successful in treating some cancers. For this research, doctors extracted T-cells from the patients and modified them, reinserting them into their bodies.
The study was a success, with all participants involved entering the remission stage of their disease. These patients have been off their lupus medication for three to 17 months, with their bodies functioning properly.
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The Guardian interviewed study lead Professor Georg Schett, who said he and his team are very excited about these results. “Several other autoimmune diseases which are dependent on B cells and show autoantibodies may respond to this treatment,” he said. “These include rheumatoid arthritis, myositis, and systemic sclerosis. But also diseases like multiple sclerosis may be very responsive to CAR T-cell treatment.”
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Lupus is a condition that occurs when people’s immune system attacks healthy tissue instead of harmful agents. There’s a lot that remains unknown about the condition, including why it occurs, with researchers theorizing that it could be an adverse reaction to certain medications, changes in puberty or menopause, and more.
The disease can cause fatigue, pain, and even organ damage, having flare-ups and periods where it lies dormant, thus becoming difficult to diagnose.