Rheumatoid arthritis is believed to occur when the immune system attacks the tissue lining the joints. Now there is evidence that deliberately weakening or shocking the immune system could be a treatment of last resort for the 10% of patients who do not respond to conventional therapy.
The treatment involves the use of cyclophosphamide chemotherapy to damage but not completely destroy the immune system. The immune system is then rebuilt by transplanting back some of the patient?s own stem cells. According to the results of a small pilot study released in June 2002, the condition of 60% of those treated improved.
Lead researcher Dr Sarah Bingham, of Leeds General Infirmary in Britain, stressed that this radical, last-resort treatment is not a cure. "Patients notice an improvement the next day. One of my patients had absolutely no disease activity at all. She has since relapsed quite badly, but she says that just for those 9 months it was worth it."