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Genetic engineering to fight Crohn's disease

03 December 2016

Marrel Singleton has spent much of her adult life on medication as she battled chronic problems with her digestive system.

But, after recently being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease the 51-year-old, from Sutton Coldfield, is now seeing major improvements following treatment with ‘genetically engineered protein’.

Now, as part of December’s Crohn’s Awareness campaign Marrel is looking to bring what is often called “the invisible illness” right into the public eye.
Marrel, who was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when she was just 12 years old, has suffered flare-ups throughout her life.

But in March this year the problem got even worse and Marrel had lost two-stones in weight before she finally met with Consultant Gastroenterologist Dr Mark Cox at Spire Little Aston Hospital.

“I was exhausted and the weight was dropping off me. The GP prescribed some steroid tablets but they had no effect so I had to take further action. I have private health insurance so I thought ‘now is the time to use it’ and I arranged to see Dr Cox,” she explained.

Endoscopy and colonoscopy investigations convinced Dr Cox that Marrel was suffering from a very aggressive form of Crohn’s Disease - a long-term condition that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive system.

“Although there is still no cure for Crohn’s there are many ways to treat and manage the disease. A recent development has been to inject the patient with genetically engineered proteins that attack the proteins in the body that are causing the inflammation.

“In this case I used HUMIRA (adilumimab) a protein that blocks the Anti TNF alpha protein that actually causes the inflammation. This way we are helping the body to heal itself,” he explained.

“By blocking this protein it is possible to achieve very significant reduction in inflammation.

“We also have other agents available that block alternative inflammatory pathways that are activated in Crohns disease. These biological treatments are now well established and more new agents are under development.

“Hopefully, in the future we will be able to tailor treatment to the specific inflammatory process most active in each individual and hence massively affect the disease burden of the patients.

“We aren’t long into the treatment but I am delighted to say the patient is responding really well and we are already making good progress,” said Dr Cox.

And an extra bonus for ‘needle-phobic’ Marrel is that the injections can be performed with something similar to the insulin pen or epi-pen’ – normally used by diabetics or people suffering allergic reactions - which is virtually pain-free and can be administered by her husband Mark.

“My total aversion to needles has always caused problems but I think with this treatment and the help of my husband I am going to be able to get round it for this treatment,” she said.

“It is still early days but I am already feeling the benefits and hope the improvements will continue in the months to come.”