Crohn’s Disease

26
Aug 2014
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Harry Atkins capture

Dr. Harry Atkins

No more living like a statue

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Dr. Harry Atkins’ success in treating a rare disease that can turn active, healthy people into living statues is getting the national attention it deserves this week, thanks to the Journal of the American Medical Association’s publication of his paper, Autologous Stem Cell Transplantation for Stiff Person Syndrome.…

Dr. Harry Atkins’ success in treating a rare disease that can turn active, healthy people into living statues is getting the national attention it deserves this week, thanks to the Journal of the American Medical Association’s publication of his paper, Autologous Stem Cell Transplantation for Stiff Person Syndrome.

The JAMA Neurology paper describes two Canadian women who have had all symptoms of their Stiff Person Syndrome (SPF) disappear thanks to a stem cell treatment that Dr. Atkins and his team at the Ottawa Hospital have developed. Readers of this blog will be familiar with one of the women’s stories — we told you all about Tina Ceroni back in December  After our post, Canada AM featured Tina and Dr. Atkins.

This week’s reports, including Elizabeth Payne’s excellent news feature (the “living statue” description is hers) that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen and  the National Post, explain how SPS,  which strikes about one in a million people, triggers episodes in which muscles seize up uncontrollably, leaving a person rigid.  Sheryl Ubelacker of the Canadian Press describes it this way in the Toronto Star:

“SPS is characterized by episodes of stiffness in the muscles and painful muscle spasms, which can be brought on by stress, loud noises or emotional distress. Some people with the disorder are so disabled they are unable to walk or move and may isolate themselves at home to avoid triggering an attack.”

Ms Payne’s story also tells of a third woman, a 53-year-old mother of six named Ingrid Steppan who was told she would likely die from her SPS. A recent transplant patient, she has now “put her wheelchair and walker away.”

Success with MS, Crohn’s and other autoimmune conditions

Dr. Atkins has used this technique with other autoimmune diseases, including Multiple Sclerosis (where he led a multi-year clinical trial involving about 30 patients) Crohn’s disease and neuromyelitis optica.  The process involves extracting a patient’s bone marrow stem cells, then purifying and fortifying them. After the patient undergoes extreme chemotherapy, in which their immune system is effectively destroyed, the purified and fortified stem cells are put back to build a new disease-free immune system.

A modest and soft-spoken man, Dr. Atkins does not used the word “cured” when he talks about the patients who have had success with this treatment. He refers to his patients as “in remission.”  For Jennifer Molson, an MS patient, that remission has lasted more than a decade. And in the case of Jelissa Morgan, the treatment has allowed her to overcome her crippling neuromyelitis optica and will be resuming her nursing career in September.

The success that Dr. Atkins is having is encouraging and offers great hope for the future.  But it also harkens back to the past: the procedure he is refining can be traced back to the groundbreaking work the Canadians Jim Till and Ernest McCulloch did in proving the existence of stem cells in the early 1960s. It’s an area of medical science where Canada researchers excel. And people like  Tina Ceroni, Jennfer Molson, Jelissa Morgan …  and now Ingrid Steppan are living proof.

Harrys Angels Screen Capture 2

Dr. Harry Atkins with former patients Jelissa Morgan, Jennifer Molson and Tina Ceroni

 

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09
Jun 2014
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TT

Toward Treatments: how stem cells can/may soon help you

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About a year ago, we launched Toward Treatments, a user-friendly resource to help all Canadians — but especially patients, their families and friends — to understand:

• how stem cells can be used to treat devastating diseases;
• which stem cell therapies are currently accessible; and
• which ones could be available in the near future.…

About a year ago, we launched Toward Treatments, a user-friendly resource to help all Canadians — but especially patients, their families and friends — to understand:

• how stem cells can be used to treat devastating diseases;
• which stem cell therapies are currently accessible; and
• which ones could be available in the near future.

Written in reader-friendly language, each Toward Treatment disease summary starts off with the Four Questions people most want answered: Are there stem cell treatments available? If not, when might they be available? What are scientists hoping stem cells can do? Are clinical trials currently underway? That’s followed by a more detailed look at what the researchers are working on right now and what lies ahead.

We launched Toward Treatments with a dozen disease summaries, ranging from ALS to Stroke. By year’s end we had expanded to 16. As of today, there are 19 Toward Treatments, including three new entries available: Arthritis, Cerebral Palsy and Crohn’s disease.

Each Toward Treatments summary has been reviewed by a panel of scientists to make sure they are fair and balanced and up-to-date. Stem cells hold the potential to treat different types of diseases by stimulating the body to repair itself. But while significant advances have been made in recent years, many stem cell therapies have a long road ahead before being available to patients. This is about hope, not hype.

We invite you to check them out.

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05
Feb 2014
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The McConnells for Feb 5 blog post-2

Rob and Teneille McConnell on their wedding day in June

Stem cells free Saskatchewan man from Crohn’s

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Rob McConnell’s Crohn’s disease struck about 13 years ago, when he was 20. The Elrose, Saskatchewan farm manager believes the stress of his father’s death had a lot to do with the onset of the debilitating disease — and how hard it hit him.…

Rob McConnell’s Crohn’s disease struck about 13 years ago, when he was 20. The Elrose, Saskatchewan farm manager believes the stress of his father’s death had a lot to do with the onset of the debilitating disease — and how hard it hit him.

The six-footer’s weight dropped to 95 pounds, the result of his decreased appetite, abdominal pain and chronic diarrhea that sent him to the toilet at least a dozen times a day.  He underwent more operations than he can remember to remove diseased pieces of his intestines, and when he wasn’t in hospital he “was on enough steroids and pain killers to kill a small horse.”

Crohn’s disease and a related condition called ulcerative colitis occur when the body’s immune system reacts to genetic and/or environmental triggers by attacking the digestive tract. The two conditions are commonly referred to as Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD. Canada has one of the highest incidences of IBD in the world, with one in about 150 — about 230,000 Canadians — affected.  (For a lively and informative overview of IBD, check out this video at the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada site.)

Rob tried every drug and treatment available to combat his Crohn’s.  They would work for a while. Some, especially the steroids, came with severe side-effects (moon-shaped face, hair loss, sore joints and brittle bones).  But the Crohn’s kept coming back.

“I was going downhill quickly,” says Rob. “I was at the hospital all the time and my girlfriend Teneille would go home and go online looking for other options, especially information about stem cell transplants. She found a blog by Billy Tytaneck.”

In 2008, Billy Tytaneck was able to avoid radical surgery to remove much of his bowel when Dr. Harry Atkins of the Ottawa General Hospital performed a stem cell bone marrow transplant to rebuild his immune system. Dr. Atkins has been featured in this space for his success in treating patients with Multiple Sclerosis, as well as Stiff Person Syndrome and neuromyelitis optica.

Teneille wrote to Dr. Atkins, who asked her to send along Rob’s medical records. “About a week later he responded and told me: ‘You know what? I think you might be a candidate.’  It was late February 2012 when I went to Ottawa for my consultation and right away I had a great connection with Dr. Atkins, who sat me down and went through the whole procedure.”

Three months later, Rob was back in Ottawa for his “Autologous Peripheral Stem Cell Transplant” using stem cells that were extracted from his blood, then purified and fortified. After undergoing extreme chemotherapy to annihilate his diseased immune system, Rob was given back the robust stem cells to rebuild a new immune system.

He sailed through the treatment that others have found excruciating. “I took the chemo relatively well. There was some nausea and I had other things that bothered me, but I didn’t get the whole super illness.”

After staying in Ottawa for follow-up treatments and infection monitoring, Rob went back to Saskatchewan in the fall where, a year-and-a-half later, the Crohn’s is in remission and he feels fine. No more frequent trips to the bathroom. No more cramps. No more weight loss: he’s up to 161 pounds now, his heaviest ever. He no longer takes any medication.

While it is still too early to say whether Rob’s Crohn’s is cured — the condition is known to wax and wane — so far so good.  “I eat very well,” says Rob. “Things that used to bother me don’t bother me anymore. There have been no attacks. I used to have a pain twice an hour or more. It has been a long while since I had one.”

And his quality of life has vastly improved.  “It is just amazing. I started another business. Teneille and I got married at the end of June. I’m doing so much more and feeling so much better.  I really don’t think I would be on this side of the grass if I didn’t get that treatment.”

(Editor’s Note: CNN reports on Dr. Atkins and his work with Stiff Person Syndrome patients.)

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