Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an incurable disease that affects about 230,000 Canadians. People with IBD suffer from diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, intestinal blockages, and other complications. Current treatments can control symptoms in many people, but they are not curative, and can have side effects like increased risk of infections. The causes of IBD are so far unknown.
People with IBD appear to have abnormal immune responses to the bacteria (microbes) that normally live in the intestine. This response involves blood cells, called helper T cells, that react to microbes, especially when they are not suppressed properly by another type of T cell that inhibits inflammation (known as T-regulatory cells, or Tregs).
Dr. Levings will develop a new IBD treatment that captures the natural ability of Tregs to control inflammation, using a new technology called Chimeric Antigen Receptors (CARs) which has shown promising results in cancer studies. The technology changes Tregs in such a way that they treat intestinal inflammation without affecting the rest of the body’s immune system.
Dr. Levings has validated this technology in a laboratory setting, and the next steps include testing it in animal models, creating new versions of the specific CAR she has developed, and interviewing and surveying physicians and patients to find out how receptive they would be to using CAR Treg therapy for IBD.