Date: 06 August 2018
A new trial will test stem cell transplants as a treatment for Crohn’s disease, offering hope to patients whose disease is currently untreatable.
The study, ASTIClite, is funded with £2m from the NIHR and MRC Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation programme, and led by Queen Mary University of London and Barts NHS Health trust. The trial will recruit patients with Crohn’s across England whose disease isn’t responding to treatment with standard drugs.
Crohn’s disease is a lifelong condition that causes inflammation in the digestive system, leading to symptoms such as diarrhoea and extreme tiredness. Drugs can help reduce the inflammation but they don’t work for all patients.
The researchers leading the trial hope that the treatment could help reset a patient’s immune system. Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the patient’s own immune cells attack parts of their body, causing problems and unwanted symptoms.
Patients on the trial will have treatment to help their bodies produce special immune cells called stem cells, which act as parent cells for the whole immune system. The cells will be extracted in a blood sample and grown in a lab. The patients will then receive chemotherapy treatment to destroy their existing immune system, and finally a new supply of their own immune stem cells will be transplanted to replace it.
It’s hoped this process will reset the immune system so that immune cells in the gut are no longer causing inflammation. This could help reduce patients’ symptoms and also allow drugs to work more effectively.
A previous trial showed that the treatment did improve patients’ symptoms, but with some serious side effects. The new study will use a reduced level of treatment to help tackle this problem.
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.”
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