Autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT) has been proposed as a treatment modality which may arrest the autoimmune disease process and lead to sustained treatment-free remissions. Since the first consensus statement in 1997, approximately 200 autologous bone marrow or haematopoietic stem cell transplantations (HSCTs) have been reported worldwide for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The current state of AHSCT in SLE was reviewed at a recent meeting of the autoimmune working party of the European Group for Blood and Marrow Transplantation. There was general agreement among experts in this field that in patients with severe SLE refractory to conventional immunosuppressive treatments, AHSCT can achieve sustained clinical remissions (ranging from 50% to 70% disease-free survival at 5 years) associated with qualitative immunological changes not seen with other forms of treatment. However, this clinical benefit is associated with an increase in short-term mortality in most studies. Improving patient selection, long-term follow-up of patients after AHSCT, optimisation of induction and maintenance treatment together with detailed analysis of the immune system are identified as key areas for future research. Optimally, AHSCT should be compared with conventional treatment in randomised controlled trials. Development of stronger transplant registries, defining a core set of clinical data and standardising biological sample collections would make future collaborations and comparison of studies more feasible.
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Funding This work was in part supported by the intramural research programme of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health.
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