Umbilical stem cells treat lupus-induced kidney disease

Systemic lupus erythematosis, a disease in which the immune system attacks the very body that houses it, is more commonly known as lupus. This disease has ravaged the bodies and lives of many people who were once healthy and active and reduced them to shells of their former selves. Little is available for lupus suffers. Drugs range from drugs that suppress the immune system like steroids or antimalarial drugs like hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) that are better tolerated, but still have many undesirable side effects. Lupus patients expect little more than a steady decline that culminates in a rather unpleasant death.

Now stem cells seem to offer some of the first hope for lupus patients. Human umbilical cord blood-derived mesenchymal stem cells (uMSCs) seem to offer some benefits as a treatment for lupus nephritis (LN). Mice that suffer from a disease is very similar to the human lupus disease were given transplantations of uMSCs showed improvements. This is a very welcomed result for the thousands of lupus sufferers. Lupus is an autoimmune disease characterized by aberrations of the immune response, but it results in a diversity of clinical conditions, including LN, which is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality for lupus patients.

Corresponding author Dr. Oscar K. Lee of the National Yang-Ming University School of Medicine stated that MSCs have been shown to possess the ability to turn down the immune system. They can inhibit inflammation and mediate the function of mature and immature immune system T cells. To determine if MSCs from umbilical cord can provide some therapeutic relief for LN, Lee and his colleagues transplanted umbilical cord blood-derived stem cells into mice engineered to develop a disease that closely resembles lupus in humans.

The results, according to Lee, showed that “uMSC transplantation markedly delayed the deterioration of renal function, reduced certain antibody levels, alleviated changes in renal pathology and the development of proteinuria – the presence of excess protein serum in the urine and a sign of renal damage.” The positive difference in survival rate for mice treated at two months of age compared with mice treated at six months of age, led the researchers to conclude that early uMSC transplantation are more effective than later transplantations. The researchers also deduced that their findings favored the use of allogenic (other-donated) rather than autologous (self-donated) MSCs for SLE treatment, which would make sense with an autoimmune disorder. “The therapeutic effects demonstrated in this pre-clinical study support further exploration of the possibility of using uMSCs from mismatched donors in LN treatment,” concluded Dr. Lee.

The beneficial results were in the current issue of Cell Transplantation (20:1). Dr. David Eve, associate editor of CELL TRANSPLANTATION and an instructor at the University of South Florida Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair, said, “The ability of uMSCs to reduce inflammation means that they are likely to be of use in the treatment of autoimmune disorders and this study supports that reasoning and, in this case, also advocates the use of non-self cells.