News

Shining a light on stem cell therapy to treat gut motility disorders

30 January 2017
Findings published in Gastroenterology, the leading journal in gastrointestinal research and disease
A new study from the Departments of Anatomy & Neuroscience and Physiology at the University of Melbourne has shown that transplantation of stem cells into the bowel wall has the potential to treat some intestinal motility disorders.

Within the wall of the bowel, there is an extensive nervous system.  These neurons, called the enteric nervous system, play an essential role in controlling gut motility.  Diseases of the enteric nervous system result in motility disorders that are some of the most challenging conditions for clinicians to manage as there are currently no effective treatments.

Dr. Lincon Stamp, the first author of the new study, used a mouse model to examine whether stem cell transplantation might be used to treat intestinal motility disorders caused by diseases affecting the enteric nervous system. 

Lincon transplanted neural stem cells, which had been isolated from the bowel of young mice and which expressed a light sensitive ion channel, into the colon of recipient mice.  One month later, Rachel Gwynne, an electrophysiologist, recorded responses in the colonic muscle of the recipient mice in response to light stimulation, which selectively activates the transplanted cells.  Rachel found that light stimulation induced responses in the colonic muscle of recipient mice.

“Our study showed that transplanted stem cells generate multiple different types of enteric neurons that integrate, release the correct neurotransmitters and regulate the function of the muscle of the bowel wall,” said Dr Stamp.

Several years ago, a study from the UK showed that neural stem cells can be isolated from the human bowel using routine endoscopic techniques.  Dr Stamp said that cells isolated from healthy bowel regions of patients might therefore be used to treat motility disorders.

The new study from Professor Heather Young’s laboratory in collaboration with Professors Joel Bornstein and Andrew Allen and colleagues at the Florey Institute for Neuroscience and Mental Health will be published in Gastroenterology, the leading journal in the field of gastrointestinal research and disease, and was funded by an NHMRC grant.