Transplanting stem cells from a healthy woman to her sister with severe rheumatoid arthritis apparently cured the disease, researchers report in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.
At the Northwestern University in Chicago, researchers led by Dr. Richard K. Burt used stem cells from the sibling to treat a 52-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis in 38 joints. Prior to transplantation, the woman was given various drugs to increase the odds that her body wouldn’t reject the cells. Her morning stiffness disappeared before she was discharged from the hospital and did not recur. Her rheumatoid nodules were completely gone 9 months after transplantation and now one year later the patient is disease-free and is not taking any drugs to suppress her immune system. At 10 months after transplantation, the patient became infected with the shingles virus, but the disease responded well to the drug acyclovir. There was no evidence that the transplanted cells attacked the patient’s own cells, a condition called graft-versus-host disease that is essentially the opposite of what occurs with rejection. The procedure, the researchers conclude, “may be performed safely, without the development of graft versus host disease or serious infection, and results in … marked resolution of the disease manifestations of rheumatoid arthritis.” (SOURCE: Arthritis and Rheumatism: Reuters Health News: August 2004.)