Stem cell treatment for scleroderma improves quality of life

February 17, 2021

Dr. Nancy Maltez“Knowing that people can feel and function better after this intensive treatment is what really matters to patients,” - Dr. Nancy Maltez,When Dr. Nancy Maltez meets a patient with early severe systemic scleroderma, a rare autoimmune disease that hardens the skin and organs, she knows one of the best options is to reset their immune system using strong chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. 

Clinical trials have shown this intensive treatment can improve skin thickening and lung inflammation, and extend survival. But what her patients really want to know is whether people feel better afterwards, so Dr. Maltez led a study to explore this. 

The research team asked 41 patients who received stem cell transplants and 65 patients who received standard treatments questions about their quality of life and ability to complete daily tasks. Patients who received transplants reported significantly improved health-related quality of life and symptoms compared to those who received conventional treatments, and these improvements persisted for several years.

 Interestingly, the two groups reported similar mental health levels, possibly because treatment does not always change all skin disfigurement or inability to work. It could also be due to the disruptive nature of a stem cell transplant, which often requires living in a new city for several months.

The Ottawa Hospital is one of the few places in Canada that can perform this procedure, having pioneered it for multiple sclerosis 20 years ago. The Ottawa Hospital performed 14 transplants for rheumatic diseases including scleroderma between 2019 and 2021. Learn more about the procedure.

“Knowing that people can feel and function better after this intensive treatment is what really matters to patients”  said Dr. Nancy Maltez, rheumatologist and clinician investigator at The Ottawa Hospital and lecturer at the University of Ottawa.

Source: Arthritis & Rheumatology

Authors: Nancy Maltez, Mathieu Puyade, Mianbo Wang, Pauline Lansiaux, Zora Marjanovic, Catney Charles, Russell Steel, Murray Baron, Ines Colmegna, Marie Hudson, Dominique Farge for the Canadian Scleroderma Research Group, the MATHEC-SFGMTC Network.

Funding:  The Canadian Scleroderma Research Group (CSRG) is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), SclerodermCanada and its provincial Chapters, Scleroderma Society of Ontario, Scleroderma Society of Saskatchewan, Sclérodermie Québec, Cure Scleroderma Foundation, INOVA Diagnostics Inc. (San Diego, CA), Dr. Fooke Laboratorien GmbH (Neuss,  Germany), Euroimmun (Lubeck, Germany), Mikrogen GmbH (Neuried, Germany), Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec (FRSQ), the Canadian Arthritis Network (CAN), and the Lady Davis Institute of Medical Research of the Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, QC. The CSRG has also received educational grants from Pfizer, Actelion pharmaceuticals, and Mallinkrodt.

The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.   

Media Contact 
Amelia Buchanan
Senior Communication Specialist
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute