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Lupus: Everything you need to know about this autoimmune disease suffered by more than 5 million people worldwide

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On World Lupus Day, experts explain the origin of this condition, the symptoms to detect it early, and the treatments to cope with it

Every May 10 is celebrated as World Lupus Day, a disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs.

This disease, which can present in four different forms (systemic lupus erythematosus, cutaneous lupus, drug-induced and neonatal), affects around 5 million people worldwide in some of its forms, being more frequent in women than in men.

What is Lupus?

As explained by experts about Lupus, this condition is a complex and chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system can affect the joints, skin, brain, lungs. kidneys, and blood vessels, causing widespread inflammation and tissue damage in affected organs. Although there are different types of lupus, such as cutaneous, drug-induced or neonatal, the most common is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE).

Lupus Symptoms

Its symptoms include fatigue, mood swings, depression, anxiety, joint pain or swelling, skin rashes, and fever, with varying levels of severity. Some are similar to rheumatoid arthritis; for this reason, the diagnosis is sometimes confused, according to experts.

Although the cause of lupus is unknown, there are treatments that reduce damage to organs and joints, and relieve pain and inflammation, leading to a better quality of life.

While lupus can affect anyone, it is more common in women. In fact, out of every 10 adults with the disease, only one is a man.

Symptoms and diagnosis of the disease occur most frequently between the ages of 15 and 44, and family members of people with Lupus have a 5% to 13% chance of developing the disease.

It is essential to raise awareness about lupus so that more people can consult with their doctor, carry out the corresponding studies, diagnose the disease early and thus begin the treatment that allows them to lead a normal life.

Lupus Treatments

Although lupus has no cure, fortunately, there are drug treatments that help control the progress of the disease and reduce symptoms. 

However, some people are resistant to conventional treatments, in which case it is necessary to treat the disease and its symptoms with new options. In this sense, the use of mesenchymal stem cells is the latest advance in science to treat this disease that affects millions of people in the world. Hence the importance of storing the umbilical cord of newborns (where these cells can be found), for the treatment of this type of disease and many others.

Along these lines, in recent years various studies and investigations have been carried out to determine the degree of efficiency of these cells in the treatment of lupus. One of these studies is the one carried out by the Department of Rheumatology and Immunology of the Nanjing University School of Medicine (China), called “Cell Therapy with mesenchymal cells induces the increase of FLT3L and CDc1 + dendritic cells in patients with SLE”, and whose findings were reported in the journal Nature in 2019.

According to what has been observed, mesenchymal cells produce a protein called FLT3L (the gene that gives rise to a protein that participates in the formation and multiplication of new blood cells) that helps increase the number of therogenic dendritic cells (CDc1 +), which They are responsible for regulating the activity of other cells of the immune system in the blood of people with SLE. This finding is not minor, since in the case of patients with SLE both the FLT3L and CDc1 + proteins are frankly decreased.

In this research, 21 patients with SLE who were not responding to the most conventional treatments were studied and received an intravenous infusion of mesenchymal cells from the umbilical cord. As a consequence, patients reported an increase in the number of CDc1 + cells in their blood; In addition, changes in the disease activity index and improvement in symptoms were observed that were maintained for up to six months after treatment. There was even evidence of an improvement in kidney function in patients with lupus nephritis, which is a frequent complication in patients with SLE

explained the specialist.

More recently, in 2020 specialists on the subject carried out the meta-analysis “Clinical efficacy and safety of Mesenchymal Stem Cells for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus”, with the aim of evaluating the levels of efficacy and safety of treatments with mesenchymal cells for this autoimmune disease. 

With this analysis, which consisted of a review of 10 investigations carried out between 2000 and 2019 by various groups of experts, it was concluded that the use of mesenchymal stem cells could be a promising cellular therapeutic agent for people with systemic lupus erythematosus, as well as for other diseases based on impaired immunity.

It was observed that patients with this type of lupus who received treatment with mesenchymal stem cells had lower levels of proteinuria (pathological appearance of proteins in urine) between three and six months, compared with a control group; at the same time, less disease activity was observed at two and six months and fewer adverse effects.

The great challenge is to advance in the clinical research of the umbilical cord mesenchymal cells to have more and more information on how they can generate positive changes in the immune system of people with lupus to reduce symptoms and thus improve quality of life of people. However, more studies with longer-term endpoints and larger patient sample sizes need to be designed and conducted to identify additional robust patient-centered outcomes in the future

added by experts.
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