Stem cell transplants to be used in treating Crohn’s disease | Our news

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Stem cell transplants to be used in treating Crohn’s disease

A new 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.

Chief investigator Professor James Lindsay from Queen Mary University of London 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 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.”

The use of stem cell transplants to wipe out and replace patients’ immune systems has recently been found to be successful in treating multiple sclerosis. This new trial will investigate whether a similar treatment could reduce gut inflammation and offer hope to people with Crohn’s disease.

In the trial, patients undergo chemotherapy and hormone treatment to mobilise their stem cells, which are then harvested from their blood. Further chemotherapy is then used to wipe out their faulty immune system. When the stem cells are re-introduced back into the body, they develop into new immune cells which give the patient a fresh immune system.

In theory, the new immune system will then no longer react adversely to the patient’s own gut to cause inflammation, and it will also not act on drug compounds to remove them from their gut before they have had a chance to work.

Professor Tom Walley Director of the NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies programmes, which funded the trial, said: “Stem cell therapies are an important, active and growing area of research with great potential. There are early findings showing a role for stem cells in replacing damaged tissue.  In Crohn’s disease this approach could offer real benefits for the clinical care and long term health of patients.”

The current clinical trial, called ‘ASTIClite’, is a follow up to the team’s 2015 'ASTIC’ trial, which investigated a similar stem cell therapy. Although the therapy in the original trial did not cure the disease, the team found that many patients did see benefit from the treatment, justifying a further clinical trial. There were also some serious side effects from the doses of drugs used, so this follow-up trial will be using a lower dose of the treatment to minimise risks due to toxicity.

Patients will be recruited to the trial through Barts Health NHS Trust, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, NHS Lothian, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospital NHS Trust and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

The trial will involve academics from the University of Manchester, University of Nottingham, University of Sheffield, Nottingham Trent University, University of Edinburgh, University of Oxford, King’s College London, as well as Queen Mary University of London.

The study was funded by a Medical Research Council and NIHR partnership created to support the evaluation of interventions with potential to make a step-change in the promotion of health, treatment of disease and improvement of rehabilitation or long-term care.

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  1. Gagandeep Sunday, 9 September 2018 at 05:26 PM

    Hello,
    I read about new research that is taking place to find a cure for Crohn’s patients. Unfortunately, I suffer from Crohn’s from last 13 years and all attempts by my GI specialist to put me in remission has not been fruitful. Now I just get the answer from consultant that we are confused and I am in limbo situation and still hope for some sort of relief on daily basis. I do not have any medical support and just managing the situation with alternate therapies and intensive meditation to keep me positive that is helpful for time being.
    I think that even though I am making some efforts with meditation to feel better. But I still need some treatment to live pain and symptoms free all the time and feel like a normal 40 year old man. Your news of stem cell transplant makes sense and has given me so much hope. If possible I would like to get involved in your research and feel normal for rest of life and also will be able to help others and show them that there is a light at the end of tunnel.
    Kindly contact me on: 07888828034 and I am very much looking forward to hear from you.
    Kind regards,
    Gagandeep

  2. Anwar Hussen Tuesday, 11 December 2018 at 06:54 PM

    Hello I hear of this research on cure for Crohns and find it very iteresting to be a part of. Have been with Crohns since 2001 had 3 surgeries and nearly requiring another one to get rid of abdominal fistula. I would be more than grateful if somehow you could make me an incumbent participant in your trial and relieve me with all the miseries to give me a normal life again. I could be contacted on 0097129300165. Sincerely looking forward to hear from you. Warm wishes. Sayed Anwar