Health Headlines: Using stem cells to treat autoimmune disorders

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Published: Apr. 21, 2023 at 8:22 AM CDT
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DENVER, Colo. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – Fifty million Americans are living with an autoimmune disorder, making it one of the leading causes of chronic illness in the country. In fact, there are more than 80 autoimmune diseases. For most, there is no cure. Management is key. But that may soon change as a procedure in clinical trials right now may be the key to keeping their disease in remission.

Award-winning singer Celine Dion was diagnosed with stiff person’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes uncontrollable spasms. Stiff person’s syndrome joins a long list of incurable, debilitating autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis.

Kathy Miska has been living with MS for more than 20 years, the disease has progressed and left her in a wheelchair.

“It’s hard. It feels like you’re giving up a little bit of your independence,” Miska expresses.

As with many autoimmune diseases, they get worse over time. And over time medications and therapies sometimes stop working. Autologous stem cell transplants may be a last resort.

Colorado Blood Cancer Institute doctor, Richard Nash explains, “What we try and do is suppress the immune response.”

First, patients receive high-dose chemotherapy to wipe out the immune system. Then, blood stem cells are taken from the patient – or a donor – processed, and then put back into the patient.

“There’s been a number of studies showing that transplants for MS can be effective,” Dr. Nash adds.

Seventy percent of MS patients can stay in remission for five years. It’s also been shown up to 70 percent of patients with systemic sclerosis remain in remission 10 years after transplantation.

Dr. Nash reassures, “We’re having such a profound effect on the immune system.”

Stem cell transplantation is still considered an experimental treatment for autoimmune disorders. Early results have been promising but more clinical trials need to be done.

Contributors to this news report include Marsha Lewis, Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer & Editor.