What is Crohn’s Disease?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an immune-mediated chronic inflammatory intestinal condition. Ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease (CD) are the two major types of IBD. While UC involves only the colon, the CD can affect any segment in the entire digestive tract starting from the esophagus to the anus. CD affects approximately 620,000 people in the UK alone.
The major symptoms of CD are abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, malnutrition, and chronic fatigue. It can also lead to complications such as fistulas and strictures. Treatment is difficult and requires multiple modalities including immunosuppressant medication and steroids. Unlike UC, surgery is not curative for CD.
A novel treatment technique for Crohn’s disease
Researchers at the NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) have come up with a novel technique to treat Crohn’s disease by modifying the patient’s own cells. As of now, experiments using this technique have proved to be effective in humans as well. Due to the positive experiment results, researchers expect the clinical trials for the technique to begin within the coming six months. The clinical trial is intended to test the safety and efficacy of the treatment.
The research compared the white blood cells of patients with Crohn’s disease to white blood cells from healthy individuals. The white blood cells of Crohn’s patients called regulatory T cells, produced less in comparison to the regulatory T cells from healthy people. The research findings led to the development of a treatment, which involved modification of the patient’s cells to make them behave in a more similar way as healthy cells.
Professor Graham Lord, previously Director of the NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ BRC and currently Vice-President and Dean of the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health at the University of Manchester is the lead researcher. Graham said: “This is the next frontier in cell therapy, as we’re going beyond treating the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, and trying to reset the immune system to address the condition.
“It’s a real home-grown treatment in the sense that we started with observing cells and tissues donated by patients at Guy’s and St Thomas’, have developed a treatment, and are now starting to undertake trials, all at the Trust. It shows how central patients are to research, helping to create a treatment that might help thousands of more people.”
Innovative treatment techniques have long been studied to treat bowel disorders, however, only a few actually contribute to improving the disease process. Another technique that had been recently used by researchers in China extracted healthy gut bacteria from the stool of healthy individuals and had them rectally or orally introduced into the patient’s digestive tract. Although it improved the digestion and nutrition in some patients, it didn’t reduce the inflammation of Crohn’s disease.
Hopefully, this newer technique using modified cells is more of a cure than a temporary symptom reliever for patients of Crohn’s disease.