Northwestern Medicine study finds that stem cell transplants can reverse autoimmune diseases

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Northwestern Medicine and the Mayo Clinic cooperated in research that discovered that a stem cell transplant can reverse autoimmune diseases. Neuromyelitis optica, is an example of a neurological disease that might be treated. Many patients lose their vision and capacity to walk within five years following diagnosis.

Neuromyelitis optica is classified as a separate disease rather than a category proximate to multiple sclerosis.

AQP4, a biological marker, will increase the chances of a relapse. Indeed, this marker is found in this disease and distinct from various autoimmune diseases. Furthermore, the research team found that AQP4 disappeared in the blood of these patients after a stem cell transplant.

First the research team will extract stem cells from a patient before trying to reset their immune system. They reinject the stem cells after a few days of drugs, when the immune system resets. Dr. Richard Burt developed this technique called hematopoietic stem cell transplantation.

Moreover, the professor of medicine at Feinberg made an observation while working as a fellow at Johns Hopkins. He noticed that patients had to be re-immunized for childhood vaccines after receiving transplants for cancer and the insight sparked.

“It occurred to me that losing an immune response to self-antigens in an autoimmune disease is exactly what you want,” Burt said. “We first did this in animal models of autoimmune diseases such as (experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis), an animal model of multiple sclerosis, and long story short, it worked.”

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