The immune system is the complex community of cells and proteins that usually fight infection or destroy diseased cells. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system attacks normal, healthy tissue.
Different autoimmune diseases affect different tissues, and they are caused by different underlying immune system defects. For example, in multiple sclerosis, the myelin sheaths that insulate nerves are damaged. Lupus may affect many different tissues, including the joints and skin. Rheumatoid arthritis results in swollen, stiff and painful joints, particularly in the hands and wrists. And in scleroderma, the skin is primarily affected, although the blood vessels, muscles and internal organs may also be damaged.
Fred Hutch researchers are working to understand why the immune system sometimes turns on healthy tissue. They are also harnessing a breakthrough cancer-fighting treatment to heal autoimmunity.
We are applying our deep knowledge of the immune system to better understand, prevent and treat autoimmune diseases.
We pioneered the use of bone marrow transplants to cure leukemia. Now Hutch researchers study its use in autoimmunity.
The immune system is the source of autoimmune disease. So replacing a patient’s self-attacking immune system with healthy cells can reverse or alleviate their condition. Only patients with certain autoimmune diseases, particularly multiple sclerosis and scleroderma, undergo these kinds of treatments.
Patients with severe autoimmune disease can receive an autologous, or self-derived, transplant. Their own stem cells are isolated from their blood, then given back to replenish their immune system without the disease-causing cells. Alternatively, the transplanted stem cells can come from a healthy donor.
Sallie Rhodes’ life was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with a debilitating autoimmune disorder, known as stiff person syndrome, in her early twenties. She was the first patient with the condition to undergo an experimental treatment: bone marrow stem cell transplantation to reboot her immune system.