CBSN

Crohn's disease patients test experimental stem cell treatment

It's a painful, chronic, and for some, untreatable condition. More than 700,000 Americans suffer from Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation of the digestive tract that can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. 

Now, scientists in the UK have launched a new clinical study to test the use of a stem cell treatment for the inflammatory bowel disease.

Moeed Majeed has struggled to control his Crohn's disease for the past eight years.

"I remember suddenly getting a lot of pain in my abdominal area, having to go to the bathroom a lot more, which was very unusual, and I wasn't eating a lot because it made me feel sick," he told CBS News.

The chronic pain and fatigue became so debilitating he had to drop out of college and move home.

A new clinical trial at Queen Mary University of London is working to help people like Majeed whose symptoms aren't responsive to available drugs and surgery.

"What we're doing is using a patient's own stem cells to reset their immune system," said lead trial investigator Professor James Linsday.

Study participants with Crohn's receive chemotherapy to wipe out their faulty immune system. Doctors then use a stem cell transplant and hormone treatments to grow a new one.

Linsday says it's an intense treatment to combat what he calls a devastating disease.

"Anything that we can do that takes away the duration of that suffering is an excellent thing," he said.

The UK trial is a joint partnership with Bart's Health NHS.  The same type of stem cell treatment has already been successful in treating multiple sclerosis and arthritis.

Majeed is documenting his health journey online. He's spent more than two months in the hospital and years trying to find a treatment that works.

"The trials are great. I think it's an awesome thing, especially with people looking to maybe find a cure," he said.

The stem cell trial will last about four years. British scientists say they see real potential for this approach to improve the lives of Crohn's patients.