A number of mice have been cured entirely of lupus by a CAR-T treatment which wipes out the immune system’s B cells by spotting the CD19 protein marker which nearly all B cells carry. The development has proven particularly interesting because it has already been approved for individuals with blood cancer.

CAR-T therapy involves genetically engineering T-cells to recognise and destroy certain cells. Coming to the fore in 2011 when it was shown to save the lives of patients with advanced leukaemia, it has been approved for treating other leukaemias in children and lymphomas in adults.

While most individuals with Lupus live largely normal lives, some develop kidney failures, blood clots or other fatal complications, with the disease proving particularly difficult to treat. Previously, an antibody called rituximab which depletes B cells failed to help those with lupus across two clinical trials.

This is now thought to be through rituximab’s processes, and how the immune system falters in lupus. That drug required macrophages to help out in destroying B cells, but these immune cells can be paralysed by lupus.

CAR-T therapy differs because there, T cells destroy B cells without aid. In mouse studies of the therapy, most of the mice who were successfully treated lived for more than a year after treatment. All those which received a placebo instead died within eight and ten months, with many dying before that.

In the future, the researchers said they want to learn why the therapy didn’t work for 15 of the mice, but that since lupus can be “as aggressive as cancer”, even a drastic treatment would be of use.