Researchers Plan to Cure Crohn's Disease With New Immune System

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Scientists have based a new clinical trial to cure severe cases of Crohn's disease on a bold theory. They believe they can eradicate the disorder by giving patients a new immune system. For Crohn's patients such as myself who still have symptoms despite multiple surgeries and high-tech drugs, this is an exciting development.

Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle are targeting a small group of patients whose disease is resistant to existing treatment, according to Newswise. They will receive transplanted matched bone marrow cells from either a sibling or a donor who is unrelated in order to swap a faulty immune system for a healthy one.

Crohn's disease and its cousin, ulcerative colitis, are the two principal inflammatory bowel diseases. Crohn's could affect more than 700,000 people in the United States, the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America states. The inflammation is the most common in patients between 15 and 35, though it can strike at any age. Decades of research still have not found a specific cause or a cure.

Most experts conclude that the cause is a combination of genetics, a malfunctioning immune system that attacks benign food and bacteria, and unknown environmental factors. The disorder can strike anywhere in the digestive tract between mouth and anus.

The Seattle scientists believe that the illness is linked to an abnormal response of the immune system to intestinal bacteria, plus a loss of immune tolerance. The Fred Hutchinson Center has already used bone marrow transplants to treat individuals with both leukemia and Crohn's. After treatment, signs of Crohn's disease disappeared.

However, removing the patient's own cells and returning them after chemotherapy to suppress the immune system hasn't always resulted in permanent benefits. Experts blame the genetic component of the illness, since the genes that indicate risk for the disorder are still present in the patient.

To participate in the new trial, individuals must be between 18 and 60, be healthy enough to undergo a bone marrow transplant, and have failed to get effective results from standard treatments. A donor must be available, and the patient must have private health insurance to cover the cost of treatment. The Fred Hutchinson Center has posted more information about the trial -- known as the Crohn's Allogeneic Transplant Study (CATS) -- on a website with a questionnaire regarding patient eligibility.

I am one of the 10 percent of Crohn's patients for whom no medical treatment has been totally effective. I've also undergone five surgeries related to the condition. As one of the older baby boomers, my current objective is simply to tough out the disease. However, if I were 10 years younger, I would be doing everything in my power for a chance at a new immune system and a cure for Crohn's disease.

Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.

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