Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine may have discovered the key to treating inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Dr. Graca Almeida-Porada and her team of scientists found a specific stem cell population in cord blood that migrates to the intestine and proliferates there.

Fetal sheep were injected with the stem cells and their intestines were analyzed 11 weeks later.

“These cells are involved in the formation of blood vessels and may prove to be a tool for improving the vessel abnormalities found in IBD,” said Dr. Almeida-Porada.

Intestinal swelling, inflammation and ulcers typically cause abdominal pain and diarrhea in IBD patients. Reducing inflammation is a key to treatment but currently approved drugs are not very effective.

“This study shows that the cells can migrate to and survive in a healthy intestine and have the potential to support vascular health,” said Almeida-Porada. “Our next step will be to determine whether the cells can survive in the ‘war’ environment of an inflamed intestine.”