There is no cure for lupus, but there are medications that can help manage its symptoms. However, some of these drugs cause side effects and increase the risk of other health problems. Now, researchers from the University of Houston, TX, say they have discovered a more natural treatment for the disease that uses a plant extract. So far, it has proved effective and has produced no significant side effects in mice.
The research team, led by Chandra Mohan of the Cullen College of Engineering at the University of Houston, publish their findings in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology.
Lupus, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is a progressive disease in which the immune system attacks itself, causing damage to healthy tissue, cells and organs. More than 5 million people worldwide have the condition, with around 1.5 million of these living in the US.
Patients with lupus are commonly treated with corticosteroids, which help delay disease progression by curbing immune system activity completely. But the team notes that such treatment means the patient is at higher risk of infection because the immune system is not able to fight pathogens.
In this latest study, Mohan and his team tested a synthetic, plant-derived compound called CDDO on 2-month-old mice modified to develop lupus nephritis – a form of lupus that causes kidney inflammation. The effects of the compound were compared with a placebo.
The researchers found that the compound successfully halted each phase of lupus nephritis development in the mice. “The development of lupus is a two-step reaction,” Mohan explains. “First, the immune system develops antibodies that attack the body’s own DNA, then that activated immune system attacks the kidneys. We found that CDDO may block both of these steps.”
The team says that because CDDO is plant-derived and more natural than already existing lupus treatments, it is likely to produce fewer side effects. “That’s a very important point, because many of the current therapeutic agents being used for lupus have significant side effects,” says Mohan, adding:
“As far as we have tested in these experiments, we found that the CDDO compound had no known side effects. Additionally, compared with many other test compounds we’ve previously tried for treating lupus, this one appears to be much more effective.”
The team notes that in future research, they plan to determine whether CDDO halts lupus development by cutting off activity of certain signaling pathways leading to its development, or whether it curbs immune system activity as a whole.
If the latter is true, then they say CDDO could pose the same problems as corticosteroids in that it will increase infection risk. However, they note that even if the compound does turn out to be immunosuppressive, it is still likely to produce fewer side effects.
The researchers conclude that their findings need to be validated before CDDO can be tested in humans, but Mohan says he is “encouraged” by the effectiveness of CDDO against lupus so far.
Last month, Medical News Today reported on another study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, which claimed that within 30 days of being discharged from the hospital, 1 in 6 lupus patients are readmitted.