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Gastrointestinal conditions, especially pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), cause severe pain and other serious symptoms. To make matters worse, diagnostic and therapeutic studies frequently involve invasive procedures with inherent risks, including exacerbation of these problems. ASRI scientists are testing new chemical compounds that could bring a safer remedy to patients with these conditions.

Using a synthetic human secretin analog, ASRI gastrointestinal researchers have been able to improve the sensitivity of structural abnormalities of the pancreatic duct for patients with acute/acute recurrent pancreatitis. The analog stimulates a pancreatic ductal secretion, allowing for better visualization of the ductal anatomy using MRI techniques. Researchers hope that more accurate noninvasive testing will reduce the need for potentially high-risk invasive maneuvers.

Gastrointestinal researchers at ASRI also completed several landmark studies testing the safety and effectiveness of promising drugs for the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases, as well as disorders involving the liver and illnesses that affect the pancreatic and biliary tracts. One of these studies revealed that a preparation of specially formulated mesenchymal stem cells can control Crohn’s disease in patients who have not responded to conventional therapies. Comprised of adult mesenchymal stem cells (obtained from healthy adult volunteer donors), this therapy has been used in transplant recipients who are suffering from graft versus host disease (GVHD). Patients who have received this therapy for Crohn’s disease have shown remarkable improvement — the symptoms of diarrhea were reduced and the ulcerations within the intestinal lining began to heal.

In a related study, researchers from the Allegheny Center for Digestive Health (ACDH), have tested the effectiveness of co-stimulation modulators — a new class of agents being used to treat Crohn’s disease. These agents specifically bind to molecules that activate T-cell receptors, which in turn inactivate the body’s immune response that triggers inflammatory changes found in IBD.

“We learned that by selectively targeting inflamed areas of the gastrointestinal tract with potent biologic therapies, patients can achieve better longterm results with minimal side effects, and delay or even avoid surgery,” said Paul Lebovitz, MD, Principal Investigator. “Thanks to the development of cutting-edge biologics, the future is brighter for patients with inflammatory bowel disease and other gastrointestinal disorders.”

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