Scleroderma transplant

Health Watch

There is new hope for patients with a rare autoimmune disorder.

In mild cases, Scleroderma causes areas of hardened skin. But in severe cases, it can also cause deadly hardening of internal organs like the lungs.

A transplant commonly used to treat cancer is now approved to treat a rare autoimmune disease that causes hardened skin.

A year ago, Chuck Beschta couldn’t walk more than a few minutes without stopping to rest.

“Just going out and doing normal activities outside raking the lawn mowing the grass shoveling the driveway whatever—snow blowing, those became impossible,” said Beschta.

After months of testing, he was diagnosed with severe Scleroderma which was hardening his skin but even worse. It was hardening his lungs, making it hard to breathe.

“He was getting worse despite the best therapy we had to offer,” said Kevin McKown, MD, Rheumatologist, University of Wisconsin Hospital.

Doctor Kevin McKown at the University of Wisconsin Hospital recommended a stem cell transplant newly approved for scleroderma to reboot Chuck’s immune system.

“There’s a process by which they try to remove the autoreactive immune cells, the cells that are caught in the immune process and then they infuse that back in and hope that the body will basically take up and graft that immune system,” said Doctor McKown.

Chuck saw almost immediate results. His skin was softer, and his breathing improved. He hopes his scleroderma has been cured.

“I think we can be optimistic and so far the people who have been followed out as far as 10 years out don’t seem to be getting it back,” said Doctor McKown.

Without a transplant, less than half the patients, like chuck, who have diffuse scleroderma and severe lung disease live 10 years past diagnosis.

Stem cell transplants are commonly used to treat leukemia and lymphoma, cancers that affect the blood and lymphatic system.

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