Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation for severe and refractory lupus
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OBJECTIVE: To determine the safety and long-term efficacy of immune ablation and autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) in severe systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). METHODS: Fifteen patients with persistently active SLE after intravenous (IV) cyclophosphamide (CYC) therapy underwent HSCT. Stem cells were mobilized with CYC (2.0 gm/m(2)) and granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (5 microg/kg/day). Lymphocytes were depleted from the graft by selection of CD34-positive cells. The conditioning regimen used was CYC (200 mg/kg), antithymocyte globulin (90 mg/kg), and methylprednisolone (3 mg/kg). Outcome was evaluated by the SLE Disease Activity Index (SLEDAI), serum complement levels, serologic features, function of diseased organs, and immunosuppressive medication requirements. RESULTS: Fifteen patients with persistent, severe SLE, 7 of whom were critically ill, were treated. No deaths occurred following treatment. The median followup after HSCT has been 36 months (range 12-66 months). All patients demonstrated a gradual, but marked, improvement. The SLEDAI score has declined to 1 year after HSCT, 10 have discontinued immunosuppressive medications, and the prednisone dosage has been tapered to 15 mg/day in 1. Only 2 patients have demonstrated clinical evidence of recurrence of active lupus. One of these patients currently requires no immunosuppressive medication and has a normal performance status. The other patient is currently receiving IV CYC. CONCLUSION: In patients experiencing the persistence of organ-threatening lupus following standard, aggressive therapy, HSCT may be performed safely, with marked improvement and sustained withdrawal of all immunosuppressive medication for most patients. A phase III randomized trial is warranted to determine the relative efficacy and durability of remission of HSCT compared with standard therapies.