Stem cell advancements signal a possible cure for Sjogren’s Syndrome

Once again, current news compels me to refer to my January post, Hope for 2016 – 5 upcoming treatments for Sjogren’s Syndrome. In that post, my #1 treatment was stem cells. I mentioned that there are two types of stem cell treatments:

  • Stem cell transplants. These have the potential to completely cure patients, but are very dangerous, as a patient’s immune system must be completely destroyed by toxic chemotherapy. As a result, it is a treatment of last resort.
  • Mesenchymal stem cell transfusions. In this type of treatment, MSCs are extracted from a patient, treated, multiplied, and infused back into the patient.

There has been notable news on both fronts.

Regarding MSCs, a company called Mesoblast reported a successful phase 2 trial for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis:

Treatment with the Australian company’s mesenchymal precursor cell (MPC) product, MPC-300-IV, was deemed well tolerated with no serious side effects or infusion-related adverse events in the 48-patient, 12-week Phase II study, the company said.

Among patients previously treated with at least one biologic drug, the common measure of 20 percent relief of signs and symptoms of the arthritis, known as ACR20, was achieved by 55 percent of those who received an infusion of 2 million cells per kilogram of weight. That compared with 33 percent in the placebo group who achieved ACR20.

The higher bar of ACR70, or 70 percent improvement, was achieved by 36 percent after one infusion of the Mesoblast treatment, compared with no patients in the placebo group who reported such an improvement.

While not perfect, the study is an important stepping stone for FDA approval of MSCs to treat autoimmune disorders. As previously mentioned, a Chinese study found particularly compelling results when using MSCs to treat SS, so any movement in the industry is welcome.

The most exciting news, however, comes from research on stem cell transfusions. While these transfusions currently have mortality rates as high as 20% due to the toxic nature of the chemotherapy agents, promising research hopes to reduce that to effectively zero:

The scientists have developed antibodies which latch onto malfunctioning blood stem cells and flag them up to “waste disposal” cells known as macrophages whose job is to eat up harmful material in the body.

The treatment completely clears the way for transplanted blood stem cells from a donor to take up residence in the bone marrow and generate a whole new blood and immune system.

One caveat is that this treatment has only been tested in animals so far, and may not work the same way in human subjects. However, if it does work as intended, it could mean a low-risk treatment that has the potential to completely cure nearly any autoimmune disease by rebuilding a healthy immune system.

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