Stem cell therapy can ease Sjögren’s symptoms, small trial finds

Adipose-derived stem cell injection can reduce autoimmune inflammation

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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Injecting the salivary glands with stem cells derived from fatty tissue was shown to ease the symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome in a small clinical trial.

“[Stem cell] therapy can provide relief of oral and eye’s dryness in our trial in a short time and has potential improvement of subjective and systemic syndromes of [primary Sjögren’s syndrome],” the researchers wrote.

Findings were reported in the study, “Effect of adipose tissue-derived stem cells therapy on clinical response in patients with primary Sjogren’s syndrome,” published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Adipose-derived stem cells, or ADSCs, are a type of stem cells that are found in fatty tissues. Like other stem cells, ADSCs can give rise to new types of cells. These cells also are thought to have immune-modulating and anti-inflammatory properties.

“ADSCs could be of the most promising cell types because they are cultured from a relatively small amount of adipose [fatty] tissue and the number of administration can be well controlled,” the researchers wrote.

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Easing symptoms by injecting stem cells into salivary glands

Preclinical studies have suggested injecting stem cells into the salivary glands can help ease Sjögren’s symptoms by reducing the autoimmune inflammation that causes the disease. But, there’s minimal data on the use of this therapeutic strategy in patients.

Scientists at Xuzhou Medical University in China conducted a clinical trial (ChiCTR2000033420) aiming to further evaluate the potential of ADSCs as a treatment for primary Sjögren’s.

The trial enrolled 74 patients, 64 of whom completed the full six-month study. Most patients, ages 35 to 74, were women.

Participants were divided into two groups: roughly half received injections containing 50,000 ADSCs per kilogram of body weight into each salivary gland, while the other half were given a placebo. A total of three injections were given, each about two weeks apart.

At the start of the trial, clinical assessments in the two groups were comparable. However, after three months of treatment, measures of saliva production were significantly higher among patients treated with ADSCs, though some of these measures were no longer significant at six months.

Patients treated with ADSCs also showed significantly greater improvements in two measures of disease activity: the European League Against Rheumatism Sjögren’s Syndrome Disease Activity Index and the European Alliance of Associations for Rheumatology Sjögren’s Syndrome patient Reported Index. In both measures, patients given ADSCs showed significant improvements at one month, with differences relative to the placebo still being considered significant at six months.

Analyses of immune activity indicated that ADSC treatment led to a significant reduction in several markers of inflammation, including IgG, IgM, C3, C4, and ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate).

Collectively, the data suggest that ADSC treatment can help ease Sjögren’s syndrome, though the researchers noted this study is limited by its small size and more research is needed to explore optimal strategies for dosing and administering ADSCs in Sjögren’s patients.