The term “autoimmune disorders” describes a group of over 80 different conditions that all trace back to the same cause: that of a person’s immune system attacking healthy tissues or organs.

Types of Autoimmune Disorders

Autoimmune diseases are usually classified as systemic diseases (when they affect the whole body) or as organ- or tissue-specific.

For example, organ-specific autoimmune diseases include:

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS): in this illness, the immune system attacks the central nervous system, destroying the myelin layer around it and causing progressive disability and loss of motor function
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): this illness affects joint tissue around the body, and causes severe pain, inflammation, and joint deformity.
  • Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA): this condition results from an attack of the immune system against red blood cells as if they were foreign to the body, resulting in anemia.
  • Acute motor axonal neuropathy (AMAN): this condition is characterized by acute paralysis and loss of neurological reflexes without sensory loss. It stems from the body attacking the myelin coating of motor neurons. This is a similar condition to another syndrome called Guillain-Barre syndrome.
  • Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP): a progressive weakening of the peripheral nerves, which causes weakness, impaired sensory function, and loss of balance or movement in the extremities.

Conversely, one of the most commonly-used examples of systemic autoimmune conditions is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which progressive damage to skin tissue, brain, kidneys, circulating blood cells, and other types of tissue.

Symptoms of Autoimmune Disorders

The specific list of symptoms will vary depending on the disease and the organs affected. However, almost all present the same base group of inflammation-related symptoms, such as fever, pain, and a general feeling of malaise or illness. 

Management of Autoimmune Disorders

Depending on the severity and progression of the disease, autoimmune diseases are usually managed using simple anti-inflammatory agents or more potent anti-inflammatory drugs, like corticosteroids or immune-suppressing medications (similar to the ones administered to prevent organ transplant rejection).  

In the case of systemic autoimmune conditions that threaten vital tissue, such as SLE, cytotoxic agents like Imuran and cyclophosphamide are also used to suppress anti-self-reactivity and also as steroids-sparing effects to minimize the side effects of long term use of corticosteroids. 

There are also many other alternatives that can control symptom flare-ups or prevent their progression. These treatments need to be designed on a fully personalized basis, as the patient’s own condition, history and parameters need to be considered.

Treatment of Autoimmune Disorders with Mesenchymal Stromal Cells

Autoimmune diseases are usually considered progressive or coming and going and usually considered incurable, yet sometimes with long intervals between attacks especially following successful response to suitable treatment. However, sometimes patients failing all available conventional treatment can respond to treatment with mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs). These are derived from the patient’s bone marrow or fat tissue, or from the placenta or cord tissue of an unrelated donor. Treatment with MSCs is extremely safe but such treatment is not yet approved in all countries. 

One of the future avenues of treatment currently being investigated is the use of MSC-derived nanoparticles, exosomes, or extracellular vesicles. These are expected to contain most of the therapeutic elements that can be accomplished by MSCs, except the capacity of MSCs to differentiate into cells resembling other tissues. If the safety and efficacy of treatment with exosomes will be confirmed, it may convince regulatory authorities to approve the use of exosomes and extracellular vesicles as safe and effective anti-inflammatory effects. MSCs can also be used to regenerate or repair certain tissues damaged by disease or trauma. The capacity of MSCs to repair or regenerate damaged tissues and considering the fact that treatment with MSCs is safe and user-friendly suggest that treatment with MSCs, possibly also MSCs-secretory exosomes, may eventually serve as anti-ageing treatment, as was already documented in preclinical animal models.