The body relies on its immune system to protect it against invaders such as bacteria and viruses. The body’s white blood cells look for antibodies that coat invaders, targeting them for destruction. In some cases, the body’s immune system can become sidetracked and start attacking itself. This is called an autoimmune disease.
Some of the most common examples of autoimmune diseases include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s disease, and 119 other autoimmune diseases. These diseases can be challenging to treat and can become frustrating for the patient. While many of these patients take immunosuppressant medications, these also have side effects. One of the most serious side effects is that they actually weaken the body’s immune system, making it more vulnerable to infections.
In some cases of autoimmune diseases, the disease might be so severe that the patient’s immune system has to be replaced. All cells in the body come from stem cells and this includes the cells in the immune system. When stem cells are used in the treatment of autoimmune diseases, the goal is often to completely replace the stem cells of the patient with a new line of stem cells. That is where stem cell therapy can be helpful.
First, the patient is given an injection of growth factors, which is going to encourage the stem cells to be released from the bone marrow. These cells are going to be taken, purified, and stored. After this, the patient’s immune system (the cells that are attacking the patient’s body) are going to be destroyed. After this, the stem cells that were originally taken and purified are returned to the patient’s body. These stem cells are then used to repopulate the immune system.
This is called an autologous treatment because the cells are literally coming from the patient’s own body; however, they are still replacing the body’s immune system, which is attacking itself. In this manner, stem cells can play a critical role in the treatment of autoimmune diseases. If this treatment works, then the patient might be able to stop taking immunosuppressive medications, which can lead to serious side effects.