Early research suggests stem cells can be a safe, effective treatment for people living with psoriasis. But it’s not yet an approved treatment as more research is needed.

Psoriasis is a chronic, long-term condition. Like other autoimmune diseases, there’s currently no cure for psoriasis, but researchers are looking at new treatment methods that may help.

Stem cell therapy is one potential treatment scientists are considering for psoriasis. This would involve using stem cells to help prevent overactivity in the immune system that causes skin inflammation and other symptoms of psoriasis.

While stem cell therapy is not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a psoriasis treatment, research suggests this could be a possibility at some point in the future.

Stem cells are cells that serve as the foundation for all parts of the body, including your major organs. While stem cells can be found in both animals and plants, stem cell therapy typically uses human stem cells from bone marrow.

Healthcare professionals are interested in stem cells for the possible treatment of conditions like psoriasis because they help create functional tissues in the body, such as skin and blood. Stem cells can also self-renew when needed.

Stem cell transplantation may help replace damaged stem cells with healthy ones.

Researchers are beginning to learn how stem cells may help treat psoriasis. According to a 2022 review on severe psoriasis that’s unresponsive to other treatments, stem cells may help reduce the number of cytokines and inflammation that contribute to psoriasis.

The authors note three types of stem cell therapy that might help:

  • regulatory T cells, which can control your immune response
  • hematopoietic stem cells, which develop into blood cells
  • mesenchymal stem cells, which develop into bone and tissue cells

Supporting the immune system with healthy stem cells may, in theory, help reduce the chance of the overactivity that triggers psoriasis symptoms. Benefits include:

  • reduced severity of skin symptoms
  • delayed appearance of skin lesions
  • faster recovery of skin lesions

Currently, healthcare professionals mainly perform stem cell therapy through a bone marrow transplant.

First, a healthcare professional conducts a physical exam and blood tests to determine whether you are healthy enough to undergo stem cell therapy. Next, a filtering machine processes blood-containing stem cells from a donor (known as allogenic stem cells) or your own stem cells (known as autologous stem cells). You then receive the filtered cells in a process similar to a blood transfusion.

The transplant procedure takes up to a few hours, and you don’t need to undergo anesthesia for it. However, you may need to stay in the hospital for a few weeks to determine whether the transplant is successful.

If you undergo a stem cell transplant from allogenic stem cells, a healthcare professional will prescribe immunosuppressants to help ensure that your body doesn’t reject them.

While the future of stem cell therapy appears promising, experts don’t consider stem cells to be a cure for psoriasis.

It’s also important to remember that while stem cell therapy has potential in future psoriasis treatment, it’s not currently an approved treatment. The FDA has so far only approved stem cells for a few conditions, such as blood disorders and related cancers.

There are other notable limitations of stem cell therapy for psoriasis, such as:

  • Successful stem cell treatment, regardless of the condition, requires a large quantity of stem cells.
  • Your immune system may reject the donor stem cells.
  • Stem cells may not survive long-term after their transplantation.

Stem cell therapy may be promising for chronic conditions such as psoriasis, but significant risks are also involved.

Some of the most common side effects of stem cell therapy for psoriasis relate to decreased blood cells and platelets. These include:

Another serious effect can develop if your immune system rejects donor cells and ends up attacking healthy cells. This is called graft versus host disease (GvHD).

It’s important to talk with a healthcare professional about the signs and symptoms of GvHD, as they may develop several months after a stem cell transplant. Possibilities include:

  • dry skin or itchy rashes (separate from psoriasis plaques)
  • diarrhea
  • yellowing eyes or skin (jaundice)
  • nausea or vomiting
  • dry mouth
  • dry eyes
  • joint pain
  • shortness of breath
Cost of stem cell therapy for psoriasis

As stem cell therapy isn’t an FDA-approved treatment for psoriasis, medical insurance is unlikely to cover it. In a 2017 study, hematopoietic stem cell transplants could cost close to $300,000 in the first 100 days, depending on the technique doctors use.

While stem cell therapy may be a future psoriasis treatment, researchers are investigating several other possible treatments. According to a 2023 review, some of these other emerging treatments for psoriasis might include:

  • methods that help make topical drugs more effective in psoriasis, such as microneedles
  • combination drugs, such as biologics with methotrexate, which doctors currently prescribe separately
  • additional types of biologics that target different types of immune pathways
  • small molecule inhibitor drugs

Additionally, researchers are looking at specific biomarkers that may help healthcare professionals identify psoriasis before the onset of symptoms. This will mean that treatment can start as soon as possible.

It’s also important to ask a healthcare professional about currently available treatment options for managing psoriasis symptoms.

Current psoriasis treatments primarily involve a combination of topical and oral medications. These may help reduce inflammation or decrease overactivity in the immune system that causes increased skin cell turnover.

Healthcare professionals may recommend injectables, such as biologics, in more severe cases. Light therapy (phototherapy) may also complement other psoriasis treatments.

Stem cells may help treat psoriasis by reducing inflammatory cells that cause flare-ups and skin plaques.

Research into the types of stem cells and the most effective treatment regimens is still in the early stages, but some early results have been promising. Still, more research is needed before these treatments can be approved for psoriasis.

As clinical testing continues, consider talking with a healthcare professional about your current psoriasis treatment options and whether a clinical trial might be appropriate for your situation.