Hope has come for sufferers of a crippling bowel disease in the form of a new vaccine.
The news comes as fears are rising that Crohn’s disease is caused by a bug found in milk.
Human trials begin this summer on the innovative vaccine which researchers believe is a breakthrough in the battle to find a cure for the disease.
Scotland has one of the highest incidences of Crohn’s disease in the world with one in 200 people affected. The majority of these are young people and children.
Professor John Hermon-Taylor of King’s College, London is convinced a TB-like bacterium called MAP ((mycobacterium avian subspecies paratuberculosus) is the cause of the disease.
The bug causes a similar illness in cattle, sheep, pigs and primates, and he believes, once passed into the food chain, through milk or meat, causes most human cases of Crohn’s disease. The bacterium is now also being implicated in a similar inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis.
New research commissioned by the UK government has also revealed evidence that MAP may be the cause of Crohn’s.
In the report issued a few months ago by the Government’s Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens, Dr Ingrid Olsen said: “Together with all the genetic susceptibility emerging over the last decade, it is very hard to reject the hypothesis of mycobacteria being involved in the development of CD.”
The report also reveals live MAP is much more prevalent in pasteurised milk supplies than previously thought.
According to Dr Irene Grant of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University in Belfast, 50 per cent of dairy herds in the UK are affected.
In the government report, she added: “Without effective control programmes, MAP infection has spread widely and unquestionably the potential for human exposure to MAP via milk, dairy products and potentially beef has risen too.
“There is evidence that the incidence of Crohn’s disease in various countries has been rising over recent years.”
The bug has also been found in high quantities in infant milk formula which the report says is of particular concern.
The latest evidence reveals the bacterium can survive pasteurisation at higher temperatures than previously thought.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis have rocketed in babies and children over the past few decades - rising by more than 80 per cent.
Gastroenterologists have described it as an “epidemic.”
The vaccine has already been successfully tested on animals and now human trials are due to take place in London in July.
A substantial number of cattle go on to develop an illness called Johne’s diseases, which, under a microscope, is almost identical to Crohn’s disease in humans.
Professor Taylor was the first doctor to make the link between Crohn’s and MAP.
Previously, the UK Government has said that transmission to humans of MAP from animals was not proven, despite evidence of it getting into the milk supply.
But a report in the World Journal of Gastroenterology in December 2015 disputes this after a study in India where MAP is endemic in livestock and the general environment.
More than 42,000 people were tested over a two-year period, including healthy individuals and MAP was detected in all categories of patients at different frequencies.
The report, “On deaf ears, Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis in pathogenesis Crohn’s and other diseases” states: “The results clearly show, humans like other species, are equally susceptible to infection with MAP regardless of health status.
“This places whole populations at risk of infection, depending on the prevalence of MAP in the environment and food supply.”
The report indicates that MAP in humans works in a similar way as TB, where not all people who have the bug become ill. Those with MAP who do become ill, develop Crohn’s disease.
More info on the MAP vaccine which has been developed at the prestigious Jenner’s Institute at King’s College, London, can be found at crohnsmapvaccine.com
Professor Taylor said: “We believe there is compelling evidence pointing to MAP as the cause of Crohn’s disease. We are extremely confident that the vaccine will work.”
The professor says that MAP is highly resilient, and, milk apart, has also got into the water supply by being washed off fields where cattle graze.
Crohn’s disease leads to a chronic inflammation of the intestine, wrecking patients’ lives and sufferers are at high risk of bowel cancer.
At the moment, mainstream medication concentrates on treating the symptoms only and very often does not work. Three quarters of Crohn’s disease sufferers need major surgery.
The first phase of trials on healthy humans, costing £1.4million is being funded by HAV Vaccines Ltd. Funding is needed for the second phase.
Volunteers, mainly made up of Crohn’s patients and their families are also raising the £470,000 for a diagnostic blood test to run in conjunction with the vaccine trials. They have set up a fundraising Facebook page at www.justgiving.com/teams/crohnsmapvaccineheroes
Professor Hermon-Taylor says that the bacterium is resistant to standard anti-TB drugs and has learned to “hide” from the body’s immune defences by invading white blood cells. Its hidden presence unbalances the delicate physiology of the gut, making it leaky to other bacteria and food molecules, triggering inflammation.
In studies a majority of people with Crohn’s disease have tested positive for MAP and it has now also been isolated in some people with ulcerative colitis.