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Stem cell therapy for bowel disease is under investigation

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Stem cell therapy for bowel disease

According to an article published in the FASEB Journal, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have discovered a possible treatment for inflammatory bowel disease. A special population of stem cells found in the bone marrow has been identified and it appears that these cells are able to migrate into the gut and restore damaged tissue in IBD.
IBD  refers to a disorder with unknown etiology and with chronic evolution. The term actually refers to ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which are distinguished by several features. In ulcerative colitis, it is affected the intestinal lining of the rectum, although it can extend virtually to any segment of the digestive tract. Lesions in ulcerative colitis are continuous, unlike Crohn’s disease where lesions are discontinuous and affects the entire intestinal wall. Because the two diseases have similar symptoms, differentiation is made by endoscopy, histopathological examination and clinical and biological investigations. There is however a percentage of 10-15% of the cases in which differentiation between the two forms (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) cannot be done.

bowel disease


Statistics show that approximately one million Americans suffer from IBD. Dominant symptoms of the disease are abdominal pain, diarrhea and intestinal bleeding (rectal bleeding, etc.). In addition there are a number of extraintestinal manifestations such as arthritis, uveitis, erythema nodosum. IBD can give a range of gastrointestinal complications (such as perineal fistulas, intestinal obstruction, abscesses, etc.) that require surgical treatment.

Because of the unknown etiology, IBD cannot be cured but there are a variety of drugs that reduce inflammation and frequency of relapses: 5-aminosalicylic agents, systemic corticosteroids (prednisone, etc.), immunosuppressants (azathioprine, cyclosporine, methotrexate, etc.), monoclonal antibodies anti-TNF alpha (infliximab), antibiotics, probiotics, etc.. However, medical treatment is often ineffective. In some cases, IBD has indication for surgery: patients who do not respond to treatment, multiple relapses and complications (such as fistula, occlusion, etc.). Unfortunately, surgery is not curative in all cases because the disease has a high rate of relapse.

The discovery made by the team of researchers led by Graca Almeida-Porada, MD, Ph.D., professor of regenerative medicine at Wake Forest Baptist’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine, completes previous research done last year by Almeida-Porada. He said there have been identified two types of human cells able to migrate into the gut: some responsable for the formation of blood vessels and others that regenerate cells and modulate intestinal inflammation. He also added that in the future they hope to create an injectable treatment for IBD based on the combination of the two types of cells.