Crohn’s Disease and Stem Cell Therapy
There is no shortage of conditions and diseases that cause abdominal pain and gastrointestinal distress. From gallbladder inflammation to inflammatory bowel disease to gastritis, Americans are subject to a wide range of painful, debilitating conditions. Crohn’s disease is one of the most debilitating conditions in this category. It can cause intense pain and discomfort, and may even require surgery in severe cases.
What Is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is not actually a single condition. Rather, it is a collection of several different conditions, all of which involve serious inflammation to one or more parts of the gastrointestinal system. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation defines it as,
“a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract. Crohn’s most commonly affects the end of the small bowel (the ileum) and the beginning of the colon, but it may affect any part of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus.”
The Mayo Clinic adds,
“Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease. It causes inflammation of your digestive tract… The inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease often spreads deep into the layers of affected bowel tissue.”
The US National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus explains,
“Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of the digestive system. It is one of a group of diseases called inflammatory bowel disease.”
Types of Crohn’s Disease
There are several different conditions that fall under the broader definition of Crohn’s disease. These include ileitis, but also ileocolitis, gastroduodenal Crohn’s disease, jejunoileitis, and granulomatous colitis. Each condition affects a different area of the GI tract, and patients may suffer from more than one type of Crohn’s disease at a time.
What Causes Crohn’s Disease
Currently, there is no known cause for any type of Crohn’s disease. However, inflammation is a key symptom with all types, and it is thought that the condition is actually due to an immune system response. There are other factors that may make someone more susceptible to Crohn’s, such as genetics, lifestyle habits like smoking, the use of NSAIDs, high-fat diets, and even the use of birth control pills.
Common Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease
While each type of Crohn’s is somewhat different, they all share some similar symptoms. The most common symptoms patients will experience include weight loss, pain in the abdomen, and diarrhea. However, there are other symptoms that may present as well. These include bleeding from the anus, anemia, eye pain, eye redness, chronic fatigue, joint pain, loss of appetite, skin changes, and fever.
How Is Crohn’s Disease Treated Conventionally?
Doctors today use a wide range of treatment types to combat the symptoms of Crohn’s, although there is no known cure. It is also important to note that not all treatment types work for all patients, and trial and error is usually needed to arrive at the right treatment(s) for a specific individual.
Anti-inflammatory medications are often prescribed. These include balsalazide, sulfasalazine, olsalazine, and mesalamine. Corticosteroids like budesonide and hydrocortisone are also used. Immune system suppressants like cyclosporine and methotrexate may be used, as well. Over the counter pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen may be used, as may antibiotics.
What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are progenitor cells. They are the initial type of cell in the human body and eventually diversify into all other types. They also play a key role in the body’s ability to repair damage and regenerate.
How Might Stem Cells Help Crohn’s Sufferers?
Stem cells have been studied for several decades at this point, and they may play a central role in a wide range of treatments for different diseases. Crohn’s disease is one of the most heavily studied involving the use of stem cells. In fact, some stem cell treatments have already been approved in Europe, with others in the testing phase.
For instance, the European Commission approved an allogeneic stem cell treatment called Alofisel in 2018. In a press release about the approval, the head of the pharmaceutical developer’s gastroenterology therapeutic area unit stated,
“Today’s marketing authorization, the first for an allogeneic stem cell therapy, represents a positive advancement in the treatment of patients with complex perianal fistulas in Crohn’s disease.”
In another example, a 32-year-old man presented with sudden onset abdominal pain in the upper right quadrant during a previously scheduled allogeneic stem cell IV infusion treatment for chronic fatigue and illness. The treatment was conducted, and the patient had a consultation with a GI specialist. Ileitis was suspected. However, within two hours of receiving the first stem cell treatment, the patient’s pain subsided. A few weeks later, he received a second round of stem cell IV treatment (originally scheduled as a two-part treatment) and he has since remained asymptomatic (for 14-plus months).
Suggested mechanisms by which stem cells may help patients with Crohn’s disease include normalization of the immune system, control of inflammation and repair of the intestinal tract.
The Difference between Allogeneic and Autologous Stem Cells
It should be noted that allogeneic stem cells differ from autologous stem cells. Autologous stem cells are those sourced from the patient’s own tissue, usually fat or bone marrow. However, these cells are as old as the patient and have a dramatically reduced lifespan because of that. They also carry with them mutations and genetic damage that may cause an immune reaction when reintroduced to the body.
In comparison, allogeneic stem cells are sourced from umbilical cord blood and tissue. They are young, highly-energetic cells with a full lifespan. They also carry no damage or mutations that might incite an immune system reaction.
Sufferers from Crohn’s disease may have hope that their condition will be cured in the future. Further study of allogeneic stem cells is necessary, though. It should also be noted that no stem cell therapy is currently approved by the FDA, and any such treatment should be considered experimental. It is also important for patients interested in pursuing stem cell therapy to treat Crohn’s disease to choose a medical provider with significant experience using allogeneic stem cells to ensure the efficacy of treatment.