Lupus is a disease that affects Black and Latina women 1.5 to 3 times more than white women, according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Typical symptoms are fatigue, arthritis/joint pain and swelling, skin rashes, and low fevers. In more severe cases, the disease can cause inflammation in internal organs, including the kidney, the nervous system and brain, the blood vessels, and the lungs. “People living with lupus are tired, they’re in pain, they get rashes, and they can’t function in their daily lives,” says Dr. Askanase, who is also a professor of medicine at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Currently, there is no cure for lupus. To manage the disease, people rely on medications and lifestyle changes, such as getting enough rest, avoiding the sun, and exercising. In the last two years, three new medications were approved to treat lupus, two for kidney lupus and one for non-kidney lupus. “It’s a very exciting time,” says Dr. Askanase. “Because the drugs are getting approved, researchers are enthusiastic to search for new options and new treatments for people living with lupus.”
While the results of the new study using CAR-T therapy add to the promise of a cure, Dr. Askanase cautions that it’s still too early to tell if this will be the safest and most effective treatment for all lupus patients. “There’s a bright future, but it’s not tomorrow,” she says. “Until we have a cure, doctors and patients need to diligently use their current treatment plans to keep their lupus under control.”