Background: Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is characterized by pathogenic autoantibodies, which can be removed by extracorporeal procedures. While previous studies have shown short-term efficacy of immunoadsorption (IAS) in SLE, no information on long-term benefit and safety is available.
Methods: IAS was offered to patients with highly active renal disease when conventional therapy had failed. Eleven patients entered the prolonged IAS programme and were followed for up to 10 years (mean 6.4 ± 3.5). Efficacy of IAS was determined by reduction in proteinuria (primary outcome), global disease activity [SLE Disease Activity Index (SLEDAI)] and anti-double-stranded DNA (anti-dsDNA) levels (secondary outcomes). Full/partial remission was defined as ≤ 0.5/≤ 1.0 g/day for proteinuria, ≤ 5/≤ 8 for SLEDAI and ≤ 25/≤ 50 IU/mL for anti-dsDNA levels. We further assessed flares, infections, malignancies and procedure-related adverse events.
Results: Short-term IAS (≤ 1 year) resulted in a significant reduction of proteinuria (9.2 ± 3.7 to 2.3 ± 2.4, P = 0.0001), disease activity (SLEDAI 19 ± 8 to 4 ± 2, P = 0.0004) and dsDNA levels (168 ± 205 to 45 ± 34, P = 0.001). In patients without remission after 1 year (n = 5), prolonged IAS decreased proteinuria from 4.3 ± 2.4 to 0.5 ± 0.4 g/day, P = 0.02. At the end of observation, complete remission in proteinuria was achieved in seven patients (64%) and partial remission in two (18%) additional patients. One patient flared and was discontinued; in all other patients, disease activity and anti-dsDNA stabilized at remission levels. Flares (0.28 ± 0.30) and infections (0.66 ± 0.70 per patient/year) were relatively uncommon; no malignancies, anaphylactic or orthostatic adverse events were observed.
Conclusion: IAS is effective in short-term use but prolonged IAS can provide additional therapeutic benefit while showing an acceptable safety profile. The vast majority of initially therapy-refractory patients met the remission criteria at the end of observation.