According to a Friday article by Wired, German researchers claim to have successfully treated this form of autoimmune disease using the lupus patients own cells.
Treating lupus and other autoimmune disorders
When the body’s natural defence mechanism cannot distinguish between its own cells and foreign ones, autoimmune disorders can result, leading normal cells to be attacked & create havoc.
A wide variety of bodily parts are affected by more than 80 different autoimmune disorders today, all of which are debilitating & devastating. This is why the new treatment has such great potential.
According to Hoang Nguyen, senior scientific programme manager at the Lupus Research Alliance, “this is as close to a cure as I can see.”
Nguyen, who wasn’t involved in the work, said, “They repaired the cells that make antibodies against the body’s own tissues.
However effective the treatment was (every participant experienced full remission), it should be noted that it was only tested on a relatively small sample of just five people.
The procedure is known as CAR-T therapy, and it has been applied in the past to treat specific tumours. It entails altering a patient’s T cells, an immune system part that focuses on particular foreign particles, and inducing them to seek out & destroying a particular target in the body.
What is the goal? B cells are a type of immune cell that focuses on specific foreign particles and produces self-attacking autoantibodies in people with lupus.
For this specific treatment, scientists used patient T cells and genetically modified them so they could recognise a protein called CD19 that is found on the surface of B cells.
After infused these fresh T cells into the patients, they set them free to hunt for and destroy defective B cells.
The end result was nothing short of spectacular. It took about 100 days for the patients to begin producing new healthy B cells, while the autoantibodies vanished. All trial participants have now been symptom-free for five to 17 months, the longest follow-up period to date.
The patients won’t relapse, the researchers are now hopeful. The risk that the lupus would reappear is still considerable because CAR-T therapy has demonstrated 40 to 50% relapse chances in cancer patients.
However, there are some characteristics of autoimmune diseases that make them more suitable for treatment with CAR-T.
Cancer typically involves more cells than autoimmunity does, according to Wired Georg Schett, vice president of research at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany and a member of the study team.
It appears that the safety profile of CAR-T cell treatment and autoimmunity is significantly better than in cancer because the quantity of B cells is substantially lower in autoimmunity.
Could this be the solution that will forever revolutionise autoimmune disorders?
The study was published on September 15 in the journal Nature Medicine.