Breakthrough in Crohn’s trial could offer cure for 620,000 victims of disease

Patients with Crohn’s disease are to be given the chance of having their immune cells “reprogrammed” in a bid to beat the chronic bowel condition.

A clinical trial is due to start at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS trust within six months after a breakthrough in the laboratory by its researchers.

They have worked out how to take white blood cells from Crohn’s patients and adapt them to behave more like cells from healthy people.

It is hoped these adapted cells can be injected back into patients, reducing inflammation and relieving symptoms. There is also the hope this could potentially offer a cure to a disease that affects about 620,000 Britons.

Professor Graham Lord, the lead researcher, said: “This is the next frontier in cell therapy, as we’re going beyond treating the symptoms of Crohn’s disease and trying to reset the immune system to address the condition.

“It’s a real home-grown treatment in the sense that we started with observing cells and tissues donated by patients at Guy’s and St Thomas’, have developed a treatment, and are now starting to undertake trials, all at the trust.” The proposed Tribute Trial will move beyond the successful lab tests, published in the journal Gastroenterology, to establish whether the treatment is safe and effective for treating Crohn’s.

The disease is a lifelong condition in which parts of the digestive system become severely inflamed, causing symptoms such as diarrhoea, stomach aches, tiredness and weight loss. Its causes are unknown, but the immune system is known to play a part.

Rachel Sawyer, 50, a Crohn’s patient from Anerley, said: “Anything that could help people with Crohn’s have the confidence to go out and get back to being the people they were destined to be would be a game-changer.” The cell therapy involves restoring healthy levels of a protein found in the gut called integrin α4β7. The adapted cells are then given back to patients by intravenous infusion.

Dr Peter Irving, a consultant gastroenterologist and co-author of the research paper, said people would be offered the chance to take part in the clinical trial “in the very near future”.

He added: “While the treatments available for Crohn’s have increased over recent years, they only work in some patients. In addition, the treatments have potentially serious side-effects in some patients. This research paves the way for a trial.”

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