Fistulas and Crohn’s
Fistulas are sores or ulcers which tunnel through the intestine and into surrounding tissue. For many Crohn’s patient’s fistulas occur around the anus or rectum, but, they can occur throughout the digestive system. In an interview with the Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, Dr. Julian Panes reports that 40% of patients with Crohn’s disease will be affected by fistulas at some point during the course of their disease.
The symptoms of the fistula depend on its location. In cases of a perianal fistula, swelling and pain are common symptoms. For some patients with a fistula between the bladder and rectum, urinary tract infections can occur. In other cases, waste can leak from the anus or vagina or seep through the abdominal wall.
Traditional Medical Approaches to Treating Fistulas
Unfortunately, fistulas are both painful and difficult to treat. Traditionally, patients with fistulas take antibiotics or immunosuppressants. But, in over 90 percent of patients who are treated with antibiotics, the symptoms recur, and the limited research indicates that immunosuppressants only help 25% of patients. If a patient is not responding to medication, they are referred for a surgical consult. But, surgery can be complicated, and in the case of perianal fistulas, incontinence can be caused due to sphincter muscle involvement.
Stem cells offer new hope to Crohn’s patients with perianal fistulas. A safer option than surgery, stem cell therapy has been recently approved by the European Commission to treat complex perianal fistulas. For the treatment of fistulas, Alofisel (an allogeneic stem cell therapy) is a huge step forward as it is delivered via injection to the walls of the fistula tract and does not require surgery while at the same time healing the fistula and making remission possible.