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Stem Cell Procedure Offering Hope Of Breakthrough Cure For Crohn's Disease

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Doctors may now have a possible breakthrough in the treatment of the most serious cases of Crohn's disease, an experiment that has put some patients into long-term remission from their disease.

The experimental procedure is just for Crohn's patients who've failed all other treatments, reports CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez.

Crohn's is an inflammatory bowel disease triggered by an out of control immune system. The severity can vary from mild to life threatening.

Mike Miceli fell into the life threatening category.

"I'd go days without eating and I'd still be going to the bathroom - 20, 30, 40 times a day, vomiting all day," he said.

Every medication doctors had tried failed. That's when he volunteered for a stem cell transplant clinical trial.

"I was at the end of my rope," said Miceli. "I had no choice."

The idea that a stem cell transplant could help came when some patients with two diseases got a transplant.

"In some patients with both cancer and Crohn's got a transplant," said Dr. Louis Cohen of Mount Sinai Hospital. "The patient's cancer got better and it also made their Crohn's better."

Cohen, a gastroenterologist at Mount Sinai, is leading the clinical trial. He explained that it starts with stimulating the patient's bone marrow to make more stem cells which are then collected from the blood and stored.

Chemotherapy knocks down the immune system, followed by a re-infusion of the patient's own stem cells.

It is a challenging process that has had some remarkable success in European trials.

"It puts patients into remission and helps maintain them in remission," said Cohen. "We've seen a complete healing of the bowel. They are able to get their life back, and that's really the biggest thing for us."

As an added bonus, doctors found that the transplant then makes previously ineffective drugs work again.

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Miceli now gets such medicine on a monthly basis. He knows doctors can't call this a cure yet, but he says the improvement is all worth it.

"I've continued to feel pretty good," he said. "I have bad days, I gotta admit that, but I can go out and do things without worrying a lot."

It is not clear how long the remission and improvement will last. Such findings will take long term follow-up on these patients.

A transplant is not for the faint of heart, which is why for now it's just being offered to patients who've exhausted all other options and are on the verge of what doctors call bowel failure.

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