The recent introduction of biologic and targeted synthetic disease-modifying drugs has led to more specificity in the treatment of autoimmune diseases; however, they require continuous or intermittent administration, are associated with cumulative risks for side effects, result in high costs and provide no cure. In contrast, high-dose chemotherapy followed by transplantation of autologous hematopoietic stem cells (AHSCT) has been demonstrated to induce clinical remission in various autoimmune diseases that can persist over many years without continued maintenance therapy. The principle behind AHSCT is an elimination of important components of the autoreactive immunological memory with subsequent regeneration of the complete immune system. Several studies have indicated that such an immune reset is associated with fundamental changes in the immune repertoire leading to an induction of tolerance against self-antigens. This article presents the current indications of AHSCT for autoimmune diseases based on the registry data of the European Society of Blood and Marrow Transplantation (EBMT) and discusses the results from mechanistic studies, which provide detailed insights into the mode of action of this treatment.
Keywords: EBMT; Immune reconstitution; Immune reset; Stem cell therapy; Stem cell transplantation.