Treatments for Crohn’s disease ranges from taking medications to surgically removing damaged or diseased parts of the intestine, but neither is a cure for the disease. Standard treatments may be received through UW Medical Center or Seattle Children’s.
Bone Marrow Transplant: A Potential New Treatment Option
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s George McDonald, MD is leading a new clinical trial testing bone marrow transplantation that will potentially cure severe cases of Crohn’s disease, and may provide a new treatment option to those who suffer from it.
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 of swapping out the 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 the CATS clinical trial 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 the signs and symptoms of Crohn’s. Similar experiences have been reported from studies done in Germany.
While autologous stem cell transplants have been used in the past to treat Crohn’s patients, the benefits have not always been permanent, probably because in an autologous transplant the patients get their own immune system cells back and the transplant fails to eliminate the underlying genetic disorder. Since the CATS study uses allogeneic transplant, the transplant replaces a 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. See Types of Transplants for more information.
The CATS investigator team includes transplant physicians, gastroenterologists, pathologists, and nurses from SCCA and the Benaroya Research Institute.