A clinical trial has begun which will use stem cell transplants to grow a new immune system for people with untreatable Crohn’s disease – a painful and chronic intestinal disease which affects at least 115,000 people in the UK.
The study, led by Queen Mary University of London and Barts Health NHS Trust, is funded with £2m from a Medical Research Council and National Institute for Health Research partnership, and will be recruiting patients from centres in Cambridge, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London, Nottingham, Oxford and Sheffield. The trial is coordinated through the Clinical Trials Unit at the University of Sheffield.
Crohn’s disease is a long-term condition that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive system, and results in diarrhoea, abdominal pain, extreme tiredness and other symptoms that significantly affect quality of life.
Current treatments include drugs to reduce inflammation but these have varying results, and surgery is often needed to remove the affected part of the bowel. In extreme cases, after multiple operations over the years, patients may require a final operation to divert the bowel from the anus to an opening in the stomach, called a stoma, where stools are collected in a pouch.
‘We might be able to radically alter the course of the disease’
Chief investigator Professor James Lindsay from Queen Mary’s Blizard Institute and a consultant at Barts Health NHS Trust said: “Despite the introduction of new drugs, there are still many patients who don’t respond, or gradually lose response, to all available treatments. Although surgery with the formation of a stoma may be an option that allows patients to return to normal daily activities, it is not suitable in some and others may not want to consider this approach.
“We’re hoping that by completely resetting the patient’s immune system through a stem cell transplant, we might be able to radically alter the course of the disease. While it may not be a cure, it may allow some patients to finally respond to drugs which previously did not work.”
Helen Bartlett, a Crohn’s disease patient who had stem cell therapy at John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, said: “Living with Crohn’s is a daily struggle. You go to the toilet so often, you bleed a lot and it’s incredibly tiring. You also always need to be careful about where you go. I’ve had to get off trains before because there’s been no toilet, and I needed to go there and then.
“I’ve been in and out of hospital for the last twenty years, operation after operation, drug after drug, to try to beat this disease. It’s frustrating, it’s depressing and you just feel so low.
“When offered the stem cell transplant, it was a complete no brainer as I didn’t want to go through yet more failed operations. I cannot describe how much better I feel since the treatment. I still have problems and I’m always going to have problems, but I’m not in that constant pain.”
Giving patients a new immune system
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