London: British medical experts have developed a vaccine that could cure sufferers of Crohn’s disease.
Professor John Hermon-Taylor, who developed the vaccine at London’s St George’s Hospital, says that trials have gone well.
Prof Hermon-Taylor’s research shows that a bug called mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis (MAP), which is found in sheep, pigs and cows and passed into the food chain via water and milk, is the cause of most human cases of Crohn’s disease.
But those with a family history of ulcerative colitis (another bowel disorder) also run a higher risk of getting the disease. And stress is thought to exacerbate the illness, which can affect any part of the digestive system.
Most people with the disease end up requiring surgery to repair their damaged bowel, and half of those will need a second operation within ten years.
The new vaccine helps sufferers by stimulating their immune systems to clear MAP from their bodies. It can also be used to immunise people and even animals against the disease.
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease are often vague and difficult to identify. They can be chronic diarrhoea and abdominal pain, fever, lack of appetite, weight loss and a feeling of fullness in the gut.
The new vaccine was made using two safe viruses — a cold virus and one used in smallpox vaccine. The research team attached them to a fragment of MAP DNA. Once in the body, they stimulate the white blood cells to kill the bacteria.
In a patient vaccinated against Crohn’s, the immune system would be armed to fight off the disease should it try to enter the body.
Professor Hermon-Taylor was the first doctor to make the link between Crohn’s and MAP, which is present in between three and six per cent of pasteurised milk.
When he tested patients with Crohn’s disease for MAP, he found the same bacteria in their intestines as in animals.
Prof Hermon-Taylor is convinced the disease can largely be eradicated by immunisation.
There is no specific treatment for Crohn’s currently, but various drugs can be taken to relieve cramps and diarrhoea, including codeine.
Some patients, especially those with abscesses and infections, may need antibiotics. Other useful drugs include steroids, although long-term use can be toxic.