Standard treatments for Crohn’s disease include medications, such as those that control inflammation, and surgery to remove damaged or diseased parts of the intestine. These treatments are available through UW Medical Center and Seattle Children’s. But neither is a cure for the disease.
Bone Marrow Transplant: A Potential New Treatment Option
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s George B. McDonald, MD, is leading a new clinical study to test whether bone marrow transplantation can cure severe Crohn’s disease. The Crohn’s Allogeneic Transplant Study (CATS) will treat a small number of patients with treatment-resistant Crohn’s disease by transplanting matched bone marrow cells from a sibling or unrelated donor.
The idea to use transplantation to swap out a patient’s immune system is based on evidence that Crohn’s is related to an abnormal immune response to intestinal bacteria and a loss of immune tolerance. There is strong evidence that genetic abnormalities in the immune regulatory system are linked to the disease.
Although CATS represents a new direction for bone marrow transplantation, the procedure has precedent. The Hutchinson Center has used allogeneic transplants to cure patients who suffered from both leukemia and Crohn’s, with subsequent disappearance of Crohn’s signs and symptoms. Similar results have been reported from studies done in Germany.
While autologous transplants (using the patient’s own cells) have been done in the past to treat Crohn’s patients, the benefits have not always been permanent, probably because an autologous transplant fails to eliminate the underlying genetic disorder. In the CATS, the allogeneic transplant replaces the diseased or abnormal immune system with a healthy one. “Our concept is simple: Give the patients a completely new, normal immune system,” says Dr. McDonald. Read more about types of transplants.
The CATS research team includes transplant doctors, gastroenterologists, pathologists, and nurses from Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Benaroya Research Institute.