Aug. 28, 2018

Let’s Talk About Lupus - Dr. Sam Lim’s Blog


Meet Sam Lim, MD, MPH

Dear friends,

It is my pleasure to partner with the Lupus Foundation of America, Georgia Chapter, to create this blog as another avenue to share what is going on in the lupus landscape. It has been an honor and a privilege to be part of this community from the start of my medical career in 1997. Among the many caring and hardworking healthcare providers who are passionate about lupus, I am the only physician in Georgia who dedicates all of his/her time to the clinical care and management as well as the study of lupus. As a result, I have been fortunate to work with a variety of people in different areas from throughout the world and am excited to share my thoughts and experiences. Please take it as just that: my perspective. Each month or so, I will post another short article. The topics will range widely but all will be relevant to lupus, and I will do my best to tie it back to what it may mean to our community.

Stems Cells and Mesenchymal Stem Cell Trial

Let’s talk about stem cells. For some, this immediately stirs up powerful perspectives. Embryonic stem cells are harvested from human embryos, which some liken to abortion. Others are full of hope and excitement and want legislation and research to move forward full throttle. And there are many who are somewhere in between. Regardless of where you stand, stem cell research continues and, in many ways, is thriving, particularly in lupus. Therefore, we should all be informed.

What are Mesenchymal Stem Cells?

Stem cells are cells that have the potential to develop into some or many different cell types in the body. All of us developed from the joining of an egg and sperm, which continued to divide and divide. As those early cells branched off to their respective “paths” to form various parts of our body, there are, in some cases, cells that retain these stem cell characteristics. But not all stem cells are the same. What they may be able to do and how depends on where they come from, how they are processed, and how they are used in treatment. Stems cells can come from human embryos, umbilical cord blood, and in different organs of our body. We can try to use our own stem cells or those from others (much like receiving a blood transfusion from banked blood). In summary, the words “stem cells” by themselves should not lead you to an immediate conclusion. Rather, your conclusion should be based on additional information. Consider starting here: The National Institutes of Health's Stem Cell Information Page.

Groundbreaking Stem Cell Research in the Treatment of Lupus Here in Georgia

In the coming months, right here in Georgia, we will be doing some groundbreaking research in the area of stem cells for the treatment of active lupus using mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). MSCs are found in various part of the body and can be safely harvested from a number of individuals to be used as a potential treatment in others. They do not utilize fetal tissue. MSCs have properties that make them attractive to study in lupus and several other autoimmune conditions. They lack properties that trigger the immune system to view them as foreign. Therefore, we do not have to match donors with recipients and there is theoretically no risk of rejection of these cells or an allergic reaction to them. Our team at Emory and Grady will be joining the Medical University of South Carolina (lead site), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Northwestern University, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, University of Rochester, and the University of California at San Diego in a phase II trial that will enroll 81 individuals with lupus not responsive to current treatment. In addition to evaluating clinical response, scientists at the Lowance Center for Human Immunology at Emory University will be studying the MSCs themselves in order to be better understand how they work.

The Public-Private Parnership Behind This Research

The other important and rather unique aspect of this study is the public-private partnership behind it. There is a tremendous commitment behind clinical trials and getting a safe and effective therapy to market, not the least of which is the significant cost. Clinical trials cost hundreds of millions of dollars and can take years to complete.1 The Lupus Foundation of America through its members and donors have committed $3.8 million to support this 5-year, first-of-its-kind clinical trial in the US. In addition, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, will support a data coordination center, site and safety monitoring, and mechanistic studies for the duration of the study. The first year commitment is $720,000. Viisit the following websites for more information:

More than money, this represents the hope that we have for a better world without lupus and the significant role our community has in this vision. I’m looking forward to sharing more with you in the future.


If you have any questions or comments, please send them to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Although I cannot respond individually, if certain questions or issues seem to resonate among several people, I will do my best to address them in next month’s posting.


This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects.  The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other health care worker.

Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog or in any linked materials. Consult your own physician for any medical issues that you may be having.

The views expressed on this blog and website have no relation to those of any academic, hospital, practice or other institution with which the author is affiliated. This blog should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony.  No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions.