Researchers use stem cell technology to replicate diseased human guts and understand fibrosis in inflammatory bowel disease

The new research is the first published outcome of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s Fibrosis Initiative

New York, NY – The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation today announced a breakthrough in the study of intestinal fibrosis in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients, published in IBD Journal. Fibrosis is a common complication of IBD, defined as excessive accumulation of scar tissue in the intestinal wall. Despite therapeutic advances in the treatment of IBD in the last two decades, the incidence of intestinal strictures in Crohn’s disease has not significantly changed. Researchers at Cedars-Sinai, funded by The Jonathan D. Rose, MD, PhD Pathology in Precision Medicine Research Collaborative in the Foundation’s Fibrosis Initiative, applied a novel technology to generate stem cells from patient blood samples and create “mini-guts.” This “gut in a dish” mimics the human gut and helps researchers study the precise role of genetics and bacteria in the fibrosis process. In addition to using this unprecedented methodology, researchers will be able to test potential therapies to prevent and/or treat fibrosis, and even potentially to personalize the therapies based on patient’s own biology, a concept known as precision medicine. 

“Our findings mark a major step forward in addressing the mechanism of fibrosis in IBD,” said Robert Barrett, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Cedars-Sinai. “This research would not have been possible without the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and the generous support of Dr. Rose. They inspired a completely new line of inquiry for my lab and gave us the perfect opportunity to apply our technology to address this vexing problem for IBD researchers, specialists, and patients. We look forward to using these mini-guts for many future investigations into the causes of and treatments for fibrosis.”

Until now, fibrotic cells could only be obtained through patient surgery, which limited the possibilities for keeping a robust and continuous cell model system for therapeutics and biological research. Robert Barrett and Stephan R. Targan, director of the F. Widjaja Foundation Inflammatory Bowel and Immunobiology Research Institute at Cedars-Sinai reprogrammed Crohn’s disease fibrotic patients’ blood samples into stem cells, that were subsequently differentiated into mini-guts, in which the researchers induced a fibrotic response. This technology creates unparalleled opportunities for precision medicine in IBD. Using this mini-gut model, researchers can better understand what unique factors about each patient leads to fibrosis and test potential treatments.

This project was generously supported by Jonathan D. Rose, MD, PhD as part of the Jonathan D. Rose, MD, PhD Pathology in Precision Medicine Research Collaborative. The Fibrosis Initiative is a multi-disciplinary collaborative study investigating the biological mechanisms of fibrosis in IBD. This is the first publication backed by the Initiative. 

“Through the Fibrosis Initiative, we’re creating a research roadmap and funding novel approaches to answer well-defined research questions, so scientists can make critical progress in the understanding of fibrosis,” said Andrés Hurtado-Lorenzo, PhD, VP of Translational Research at the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. “The Foundation supports creative, innovative research that will improve the quality of life for IBD patients in every possible way. By using a patient’s unique cells and genetic blueprint (genotype), the gut in a dish technology is advancing the field of precision medicine and the future personalized treatment of intestinal fibrosis in IBD. This is only the beginning of many breakthroughs to come that will help improve the life of IBD patients with fibrotic obstructions.”

To read the full study, please visit the IBD Journal here.

About the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation

The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation is a non-profit, volunteer-fueled organization dedicated to finding the cures for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, and to improving the quality of life of children and adults affected by these diseases. It was founded in 1967 by Irwin M. and Suzanne Rosenthal, William D. and Shelby Modell, and Henry D. Janowitz, M.D. 

Crohn's & Colitis Foundation

The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation is the leading nonprofit organization focused on both research and patient support for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), with the mission of curing Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and improving the quality of life for the millions of Americans living with IBD. The Foundation’s work is dramatically accelerating the research process, while also providing extensive educational and support resources for patients and their families, medical professionals, and the public.