New Stem Cell Therapy May Treat Crohn's Disease

February 23, 2009
Julia Ernst, MS

Stem cell transplants may be a new, revolutionary way to treat Crohn's disease.

Stem cell transplants may be a new, revolutionary way to treat Crohn’s disease, according to doctors at the Hospital Clinic in Barcelona, Spain.

The autologous stem-cell transplant that doctors performed was completed in six steps, over a period of about two months. The process involved reducing the number of leukocytes in patients, collecting and preserving the patient’s own stem cells, and then performing the transplant.

This new therapy would serve patients with Crohn’s disease who do not respond to traditional drug regimens or do not want to undergo surgery, which is “complex” and “does not provide a cure,” according to a press release on the Hospital Clinic’s website. Though news of the research came from the hospital in Spain, this possible new treatment for Crohn’s disease was also tested in the United States and Italy. In the US, more than 500,000 Americans suffer from the disease.

Twelve patients in the US with severe Crohn’s disease were given the new stem cell treatment, and 11 had “very good results.”

Altogether, 80% of individuals treated in the US and Italy experienced “total remission of the disease,” and a “considerable improvement in quality of life” was reported for the remaining 20% of cases.

In Spain, where one percent of people between 18 and 40 years old suffer from Crohn’s disease, six patients are being treated with the new stem cell therapy and are in various stages of progression. All six patients, however, are “benefiting” from the treatment.

The phases of the autologous stem-cell transplant include:

Initial chemotherapy (Cyclophosphamide G-CSF). In this initial phase, leukopenia or reduction of the number of leukocytes (immune-system cells) in the blood is induced in the patient.

Migration of stem cells to the blood. Following the previous immunosuppression, the organism reacts by releasing stem cells from the bone marrow into the blood; these are the cells that will later be used for the transplant.

Collection of stem cells by means of apheresis. Apheresis is a technique that separates components of the blood. Here, the stem cells that previously migrated from the bone marrow are separated.

Cryopreservation of stem cells. When the stem cells have been collected by apheresis, they are frozen and preserved until ready for transplant.

Second chemotherapy. In this phase, total leukopenia is induced; that is, the immune system is left devoid of leukocytes, ready to be reset with the stem-cell transplant.

Autologous stem-cell transplant. The patient receives the transplant by means of transfusion with his or her own stem cells. The immune system is reset, leading to remission or reduction of the abnormal inflammatory process of Crohn's disease.

specialty: gastroenterology