Diseases / Research


Hutchinson Center scientists are using one of the greatest advances in cancer research—stem cell transplantation—to treat lupus and other autoimmune diseases. The research is showing promise as our investigators move forward with clinical trials.

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Fast Facts

  • Lupus belongs to a family of disorders called autoimmune diseases, which means a person's immune system mistakes its own body's cells for unwelcome infections and attacks them.

  • Lupus can strike at any and hits women 10 to 15 times more often than men.The disease's most severe and potentially fatal form is known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
  • Lupus produces a range of chronic symptoms — including achy or swollen joints, fever, extreme fatigue, and butterfly-shaped facial rashes — that often seem to disappear before flaring up again. The disease can affect a number of body parts, including the joints, lungs, kidneys, blood, and tissues.

  • Diagnosing lupus can be tricky, as its symptoms can be fleeting and similar to other illnesses.

  • A number of environmental factors — such as infections, antibiotics, ultraviolet light, hormones, extreme stress and certain drugs — appear to activate lupus's symptoms. Scientists haven't pinpointed any particular genes that cause lupus, although the disease seems to run in families.

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Treatment & Prognosis

Using stem cell transplants to treat lupus – Our scientists are leading clinical trials to examine the feasibility of high-dose chemotherapy and stem-cell transplantation—the standard treatment for leukemia and other blood cancers—in treating severe forms of autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus and scleroderma (also known as systemic sclerosis). Their early results have been promising, prompting larger studies.

With transplantation, it may be possible to remove the cells that trigger the immune system to attack the body. In such a transplantation, a patient's stem cells are collected, and cells that react against the patient's own tissue are removed. Next, the patient undergoes high-dose chemotherapy and takes drugs to suppress their immune system. The patient then receives an infusion of the stem cells that were collected before treatment, with the goal of rebuilding a new, healthier immune system. Learn more »

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