According to a story at medpagetoday.com, a recent study showed that stem cell transplant could be a viable new method for treating scleroderma, and could be more effective than previous treatments. Transplantation also appeared to have less side effects as well.
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease in which unusual changes occur to various parts of the body, including the skin, muscles, blood vessels, and internal organs. The body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue, which results in the production of excess amount of abnormal connective tissue. Symptoms vary depending on the severity of the disease, and can include thickened skin in areas, lethargy, stiffness, poor blood flow to the extremities, skin lesions, appetite loss and other digestive problems, shortness of breath, kidney failure, and muscles aches. Although the direct cause is unclear in all cases, exposure to certain substances and genetic factors both appear to play a role. Those with severe disease, when organ systems function is affected, generally live around 11 years after diagnosis. To learn more about this disease, click here.
In the study, a certain form of stem cell transplantation called myeloablative autologous transplantation was considerably more effective than treatment with the drug called cyclophosphamide. The treatments were only tested on patients who had severe, life threatening disease that was affecting internal organs. Data gathering at different time intervals illustrated that over sixty percent of patients had better outcomes with cell transplantation than those that received the standard drug treatment. There are very few treatment options for scleroderma when it has started affecting the internal organs.
Stem cell transplantation also reduced the possibility of disease relapse in the test subjects. Around 44% of patients who had received the cyclophosphamide treatment eventually experienced disease relapse. For those who had received transplants, only 9% experienced relapse. The cyclophosphamide group also saw increased rate of congestive heart failure and pulmonary arterial hypertension. Transplantation did increase some risks as well however. The transplant group was more likely to suffer from infection, and the procedure does increase cancer risk due to radiation exposure. The precise increase in cancer risk is unknown, but the researchers were still encouraged by the results. The risks associated with the stem cell transplant should be weighed against the severity of the disease being treated.