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Advanced Treatment for Autoimmune Disorders Now Available in Rapid City

May 24, 2018 09:44PM ● By Alyssa McGinnis

A technique that can help stave off the ravages of certain autoimmune disorders by cleansing the blood of immunoglobulins and antibodies is now available to patients in the Black Hills.

Regional Health Rapid City hospital is now offering therapeutic plasma exchange (TPE), also known as plasmaphersesis, as a sort of stop-gap treatment for patients with autoimmune conditions such as lupus, Guillain-Barré, Goodpasture syndrome, and myasthenia gravis.

 “The majority of these conditions are caused by immunoglobulins and antibodies in the plasma that are attacking the body,” says nephrologist Ebima Okundaye, MD, who was instrumental in bringing the new treatment to Regional Health Rapid City Hospital. “We can treat them by combining a treatment like TPE to remove them with immunosuppressive therapy to stop their production.”

During the 2 to 3 hour TPE procedure, the patient’s blood plasma is removed and replaced with a substitute. Through a collaboration with the ICU, which already had four of the machines needed for TPE and was using them for continual renal replacement therapy, oncologists and nephrologists have been able to prevent patients from having to go to SIoux Falls for this procedure.

“In the past, sometimes people would decide not to have the treatment or to take the high dose immunosuppression over having to travel all the way to Sioux Falls,” says Dr. Okundaye. “Often, they then come back with a bad infection because of the immunosuppression.”

While TPE by itself is usually not a permanent solution to the overproduction of destructive antibodies, Dr. Okundaye says cleansing the blood in this way can tame a flare-up, reduce the level of immunosuppression needed (and the associated side effects, including infection), and give patients a faster response to therapy. How  intensive the TPE regimen needs to be depends on the underlying condition.

“In cases like myasthenia gravis, you want to do it more frequently,” says Dr. Okundaye. “If they are doing well, you may decrease it to once a month or even once every three months. You may or may not bring it back in.”

“Partnership has driven a lot of good, cost effective approaches at our hospital,” says Patient Services Director Marcia Taylor. “These were machines that we already had and our nurses were already families with, so we were able to implement this quickly.”

Taylor says TPE is offered on the outpatient side of the hospital’s oncology unit, where the environment is more relaxed and patients can have family with them.