One approach looked at how cow’s milk plays a key role in the development of the disease. Back in 2007, as is described in this video, researchers from the University of Liverpool found that a bacteria present in cow's milk called Mycobacterium paratubuerculosis releases a molecule that prevents a type of white blood cell from killing E.coli bacteria found in the body. E.coli is known to be present in increased numbers within tissue affected by Crohn's disease. It is believed that Mycobacteria are introduced into the body via cows' milk and other dairy products. Until recently, it has been unclear how this bacterium could trigger intestinal inflammation in humans
Mycobacteria releases a complex molecule containing a sugar, called mannose. This molecule prevents macrophages from killing interal E.Coli bacteria. Previously, scientists have shown that people with Crohn's disease have increased numbers of a 'sticky' type of E.coli and a weakened ability to fight off this bacteria. The suppressive nature of the Mycobacterial molecule is a possible mechanism for weakening the body's defense against E.coli.
Other mycobacteria such as the one that causes tuberculosis also express molecules that foil the ability of white blood cells to combat them, a probable evolutionary adaption by the bacteria. The research team is beginning clinical trials to determine whether an antibiotic combination can be used to target the bacteria as a possible treatment for Crohn's disease.
Now in Barcelona, Spain, researchers are exploring an innovative cellular therapy that uses stem cells to treat Crohn's disease. The procedure is based on an autologous bone-marrow transplant (when patients receive a transplant of their own stem cells). The goal of the therapy is to reset the immune sytem.
The approach works on the premise that Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disease – that a genetic predisposition has caused the immune system to malfunction and to attack the natural flora in digestive system.
A combination of chemotherapeutic agents are used to destroy the body’s immune system while harvesting stem cells that will be used to stimulate new, fresh, immunological cells that are not programmed to attack the body.
With this therapy, in an average follow-up period of 6 years, 80% of transplant patients are in a phase of total remission of the disease and the remaining 20% have shown considerable improvement following the transplant, and are now responding favorably to drugs.
Dr. Julián Panés and Dr. Elena Ricart over the Gastroenterology Department of Hospital Clínic, Barcelona began to implement regenerative cellular therapy in patients with Crohn's disease in August 2008.