Cancer Drug Helps Lupus Patients

More than 1.4 million Americans suffer from the autoimmune disease lupus. Traditional treatments do not always work for everyone and the side effects can be hard to endure. Now, patients may have a new option.

For scientists, the condition known as lupus is a mystery that has been hard to solve.

"The immune system, instead of attacking foreign things like viruses and bacteria, starts to affect the patient's own tissues," oncologist Rob Brodsky, M.D., of Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, tells Ivanhoe.

And lupus doesn't discriminate.

Cancer Drug Helps LupusDr. Brodsky says, “The kidney failure can cause damage to the heart. It can cause damage to the lungs, sometimes the central nervous system is involved.”

Lupus is not a cancer, but Dr. Brodsky and colleagues have found using high doses of a chemotherapy drug for four days is more effective than lower doses over long periods of time. The idea is to blast the lupus once, wipe out the abnormal immune system and allow the body to learn to function normally.

"So essentially the immune system is started over again from when the person was born," says Dr. Brodsky.

Cancer Drug Helps LupusAfter an average follow-up of more than two-and-a half years, nearly half of the patients in this study are lupus-free.

At age 15, Camille Khan was diagnosed with lupus. With her kidneys failing, she decided to go through the new procedure. She says, "I started to feel better mainly because my kidney function improved."

Cancer Drug Helps LupusNow at 23, Khan is a healthy young woman. “I am lupus-free, and it is awesome,” she says.

Another benefit is this treatment does not cause infertility -- a side effect of the longer-term treatment.