Gastrointestinal Diseases and the Stem Cells

Human digestive system
Human digestive system

When most of us think of diseases, we immediately picture cancer or perhaps diabetes. That is natural, as these are common diseases and most of us know someone who suffers from such a condition. However, there are many less common diseases that are no less frightening for sufferers. Gastrointestinal (GI) diseases fall into this category.

What Are Gastrointestinal Diseases?

You will find a very wide range of conditions get lumped into the heading of gastrointestinal diseases – Crohn’s disease and colitis, gastric ulcers, and ileitis are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. According to the journal Nature,

"Gastrointestinal diseases are those that affect any section of the gastrointestinal tract, from the esophagus to the rectum, and the accessory digestive organs – the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. The term encompasses acute, chronic, and recurrent or functional disorders and covers a wide range of diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease and functional dyspepsia."

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) explains it this way:

"The digestive system, made up of the gastrointestinal tract, liver, pancreas, and gallbladder, helps the body digest food … Some digestive diseases and conditions are acute, lasting only a short time, while others are chronic, or long-lasting."

Examples of Gastrointestinal Diseases

As you might imagine with a system as vast and complex as the digestive system, a wide range of diseases can affect patients. Some of the more commonly seen diseases include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Colitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Gastritis
  • Anal fistulas (as a symptom of another disease)
  • Perianal infections
  • Cancer
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Celiac disease

Common Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Diseases

Because there are so many diseases that affect the GI tract, most of them have symptoms that overlap. This can make arriving at an accurate diagnosis problematic. Some of the more common symptoms of GI diseases include the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Heartburn
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal distension
  • Bloody stool
  • Weight loss

Some gastrointestinal diseases affect only specific areas of the GI tract. For instance, ileitis only affects the end of the small intestine. Colitis only affects the lining of the large intestine (colon). However, gastritis affects the stomach, and Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI tract, including the mouth and the rectum, and can even affect different layers of tissue within the GI tract.

Conventional Treatment Options for Gastrointestinal Diseases

Currently, there are numerous treatment options available for those suffering with a gastrointestinal disease, although not all such treatments are effective. Some of the most common treatment options include the following:

  • Antibiotics - Antibiotics may be prescribed to combat infection or bacterial threats, including H. pylori, the bacterium responsible for stomach ulcers, and which can play a role in gastritis.
  • Antacids - A range of antacids can provide temporary relief from some symptoms of GI diseases.
  • Acid Reducers - A number of medications can reduce the amount of acid produced in the stomach, which can provide relief for gastritis sufferers, and also help the stomach lining to heal.
  • Acid Blockers - Some medications actually block the production of stomach acid.
  • Immunosuppressants - Some gastrointestinal diseases are immunological conditions. For instance, colitis is a condition created by the body mistaking the cells of the colon lining for invaders and attacking them, creating inflammation that leads to ulcers and the creation of mucus and puss.
  • Lifestyle Changes - Many gastrointestinal diseases can be at least partially treated with lifestyle and dietary changes. For instance, limiting or eliminating alcohol can reduce inflammation, as well as removing a known trigger for gastritis. Eliminating dairy can also help reduce inflammation. Stopping smoking can have profound effects on GI diseases, too.

Other treatments are more radical. For instance, those suffering from severe effects of Crohn’s disease or colitis may require surgery, up to and including a removal of the colon and rectum.

Stem Cells: A Bright Future for Treating GI Diseases

Stem cells are not new at this point. They’ve been discussed and researched heavily for years now. However, what is new is the number of innovative treatments being studied in clinical trials and medical studies that rely on stem cells. Gastrointestinal diseases are no exception.

The authors of a study published in the journal Cytotechnology reported that stem cells should be considered a treatment for

"many gastrointestinal diseases and should be highlighted in future clinical applications."

Another study, published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, noted that,

"Stem cells may have the potential for replacing cells lost as a result of many devastating diseases, such as acute and chronic liver diseases and inflammatory or immune-mediated bowel diseases."

At Indiana Polyclinic, a patient presented with acute abdominal pain in October 2017. Initially suspected of having appendicitis, a CT scan revealed the patient had ileitis, most likely Crohn’s disease. A single infusion of allogeneic stem cells was enough to eliminate all pain within hours. Within two days, the patient suffered no abdominal symptoms at all. 10 days later, a CT scan showed completely normal, with no additional treatments or medications.

In Conclusion

Stem cells offer hope for those suffering from gastrointestinal diseases of all types. From Crohn’s disease to gastritis, stem cell therapy promises to alleviate inflammation, repair damaged cells, and eliminate pain and discomfort. What’s more, it may be possible to cure GI diseases with stem cell therapy.

However, it should be noted that not all stem cells are the same. Autologous stem cells are often used. These are harvested from the patient’s own body, cultured, and then returned. They are not well suited to healing, though, due to their age, loss of energy, and accumulated damage. Instead, pluripotent allogeneic stem cells sourced from umbilical cord blood and tissue should be used. These cells are highly energetic, and capable of transforming into any type of cell necessary for healing. They also do not evoke a negative immune system response.

It is also important to remember that the FDA has not yet approved any stem cell treatment. Any such therapy should be considered experimental only.


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