Stem Cells and Lupus Research

The LFA believes that research on stem cells holds promise to better understand how diseases occur, and discover new ways to treat disabling and potentially fatal conditions such as lupus, which affects an estimated 1.5 million Americans and at least five million people worldwide.  Expanding stem cell research will accelerate the pace of discovery on the potential therapeutic benefits of stem cells and help basic and clinical researchers learn how stem cells can be used to develop life-saving treatments.

About Stem Cells

Stem cells possess the potential to develop into many different types of cells in the body. They serve as a repair system for the body. There are two main types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells are taken from human embryos.  They are found exclusively in early-stage embryos, from which all the body’s 200-plus types of tissue ultimately grow. They are the body’s master cells.

Adult stem cells are found in mature tissues that have already developed and are more specialized than embryonic stem cells. The body uses these cells to replace other cells that die off throughout the normal course of life.  The most common source of tissue-specific stem cells is the bone marrow, located in the center of some bones.

Learn more about stem cells from the National Institutes of Health Website

About Stem Cell Research for Lupus

Current research on lupus involves the use of adult stem cells.  Stem cell transplantation is currently being studied for treatment of severe lupus.  In this procedure, stem cells are taken from the patient and are re-infused, or put back, into the patient after researchers have eliminated defective white blood cells that are responsible for lupus disease activity.  Results of several early clinical studies of stem cell transplantation for lupus have been promising.  In one study, half of the patients remained disease-free five years after undergoing the procedure.

Another form of adult stem cells being studied in lupus are mesenchymal stem cells. These cells derived from bone marrow or umbilical cords, are anti-inflammatory and in studies in lupus mice clearly lead to improvement in disease.  Uncontrolled studies primarily done in Asia suggest that mesenchymal stem cells may also be effective in humans with lupus.

About LFA-Funded Stem Cell Research

The aim of the LFA Research Program is to bring down barriers and advance the science of lupus.  Stem cell transplantation holds promise as an alternative for lupus patients in whom other therapies have been tried unsuccessfully.  The LFA thus far has awarded 11 grants to advance basic and clinical adult stem cell transplantation research in humans as a treatment for lupus. Learn more about the stem cell research awardees.