Bone marrow amps up bowel diseases

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — Inflammatory bowel diseases wreak havoc on the digestive tract and a new study reveals that the damage is mirrored in the bone marrow.

Early indications also show that the disorders of the gut could potentially be treated through the bone marrow, says Pam Fraker, Michigan State University professor of biochemistry and molecular biology.

“It’s possible that if we could reduce bone marrow’s ability to produce inflammatory cells that we could reduce the severity of colitis and Crohn’s disease,” says Fraker, who co-authored the study with colleagues Laura McCabe, professor of physiology and radiology, and Mark Trottier, research specialist.


“This could limit the damage that the disease causes and reduce the number of patients needing surgery.”

Colitis and Crohn’s affect more than a million people in the US, including a growing number of children. There are no preventive treatments, but steroids are often prescribed to reduce the diseases’ pain and inflammation. The side effect of this course is tissue damage, which could lead to surgery and additional complications.

Fraker focused on bone marrow, which is a large, highly active, and responsive tissue. When colitis was induced in mice, she was surprised by the significant and swift changes that occurred in their bone marrow.

The symptoms of colitis, such as swelling, anemia, and unhealthy increases in monocytes and neutrophils, (cells that fight infection but exacerbate the excessive swelling in intestines) were reflected in the bone marrow.

The bone marrow’s reactions actually fan the flames of the inflammatory bowel diseases rather than help cure it. When bone marrow amps up production of monocytes and neutrophils, it does it at the expense of making lymphocytes and red blood cells, which are key to immune defense.

Watching a young patient suffer through the pain of severe colitis bolstered Fraker’s need to research this devastating disease.

“She was very frail, sick, addicted to narcotics to numb her pain, and had several intestinal surgeries to no avail,” Fraker says. “This became a huge motivator for me as it drove home how little real help is available to these patients.”

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was funded in part by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.

Source: Michigan State University