By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Treatment of autoimmune disorders involves three major approaches:-
therapies to improve signs and symptoms
therapies to modify the natural course and progression of disease
therapies directed at complications that arise from organ damage caused by the disease
Medications used to treat autoimmune diseases
Several groups of medications are used to treat autoimmune disorders. Some of these include:-
Those that relieve symptoms like pain and inflammation including non steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs) or pain killers.
Corticosteroids are used to suppress the immunity and prevent the exaggerated response.
Those agents useful for replacement for a deficient hormone or agent in the body. For example, thyroid hormone is provided as pills in autoimmune or Hashimoto thyroiditis and insulin is given as injections in Type 1 diabetics.
Immunosuppressant drugs are used to inhibit the activity of the immune system.
Anti-TNF medications are used to block the inflammation and are used in autoimmune arthritis and psoriasis.
Physical therapy is advocated to encourage and maintain optimum mobility.
Surgery may be opted to replace the damaged joint or to treat intestinal blockage in the case of Crohn's disease.
There are several new approaches to the treatment of autoimmune disorders. The number of new approaches is on the rise due to ongoing stem cell research and genetic research.
More biological agents similar to existing anti-TNF agents, monoclonal antibodies, gene-based delivery systems, modulators of the immune system and cell-based treatments, tissue and organ engineering procedures are on their way to treating autoimmune diseases.
Therapies based on complementary and alternative medicine are also being explored for their efficacy and safety.
Stem cell transplantation
Stem cell transplantation is a new and promising strategy. It aims to reconstitute the immune system.
Several strategies that are antigen specific are also being developed that could help in disease like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, systemic lupus erythematosus, and psoriatic arthritis.
In addition to the development of new therapeutic targets, are studies to develop new biomarkers for the diseases. These biomarkers can help determine the stage, activity, and progression of disease and help to assess response to therapy.
These biomarkers would also enable physicians treating the diseases to choose from available therapies to provide the best suited treatment.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)