New stem cell therapies may offer hope for digestive disease sufferers

New research investigating whether replacing lost or damaged gut nerves using stem cells can restore normal gut health could offer new hope for treatment to those experiencing chronic and debilitating digestive diseases.

A computer animation of the human gut. "The treatments we are working on could help thousands of people living with chronic and debilitating digestive diseases"

Current gut health treatments have limited efficacy. This new research project, Stem Cell Therapy for Digestive Disease, is a collaboration between the University of Melbourne, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) and the University of Newcastle. It aims to find treatments for more Australians than ever before experiencing digestive diseases.

Lead researcher University of Melbourne Doctor Lincon Stamp said the treatment under development could offer sufferers relief from the debilitating impact of their disease.

“A major concern of the research community is that digestive diseases, caused by damage or loss of nerves in the gut, have a severe impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of sufferers,” Dr Stamp said.

“The treatments we are working on could help thousands of people living with chronic and debilitating digestive diseases because it could provide an alternative to drug and surgical treatments that currently do not cure the disease and often do not provide long-term relief from symptoms.”

The project, backed by the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund, will also examine the potential of stem cell transplantation to treat digestive diseases such as Hirschsprung disease, gastroparesis and achalasia.

With more bacteria in the gut than cells in the rest of the human body, digestive health conditions – experienced by around 50 per cent of Australians – often affect patients' mental health, economic productivity and everyday lives.

Dr Stamp will join some of the country’s leading gut health researchers at a public lecture in Melbourne on 3 November, to discuss the latest scientific evidence on gut health and what steps are being taken to try and improve the lives of sufferers.

Brains, Bowels and Bugs: a public lecture on gut health, presented by the Australasian Neurogastroenterology and Motility Association and held at the University of Melbourne, will feature Dr Stamp, Deakin University Professor Felice Jacka, and University of Sydney Associate Professor Andrew Holmes and Dr Erin Shanbahan.

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Michelle Kelso

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