Children with Crohn's Disease Offered Nutritional Therapy

September 01, 1998
News Office: Janet Basu (415) 502-6397

Pediatric gastroenterologists at UCSF Medical Center have begun enrolling patients age 5 to 18 in a clinical trial of a new nutritional therapy for Crohn's disease.

Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammation of the small intestine that may involve many or all parts of the gastrointestinal tract. It is estimated to affect over 1 million Americans; a quarter of those patients first show symptoms in childhood.

The purpose of the UCSF Medical Center study is to investigate the potential role of a highly specialized nutritional product to achieve remission of Crohn's disease. The treatment uses a new liquid formula containing complete nutrition for children with this disease. The formula's palatable flavor allows children to have the choice of either drinking it or using a feeding tube.

"Crohn's disease is especially serious in children because in addition to the symptoms they share with adults -- diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever -- children with this disorder often fail to grow normally," said Mel Heyman, chief of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition at UCSF. Heyman also is co-principal investigator of the clinical trial.

UCSF is one of nine medical centers in the United States and Canada involved in the trial, and is the only participating center in the western United States. In the trial, children consume the nutritional formula (by mouth, by tube or a combination of both)as part of an all-liquid diet for a month. The manufacturer provides the formula free for the duration of the study.

"All-liquid diets are used to help calm the over-active immune reaction in the gastrointestinal tract that causes Crohn's disease," Heyman explained. He often uses a liquid diet to keep patients from needing corticosteroids and other drugs, which are effective against the disease but can have adverse side-effects if taken too long.

"So far, there is no cure for Crohn's disease; it lasts a lifetime," Heyman said. "However, drugs and nutritional therapies can put the disease into remission. For children, that means a chance to eat, grow and develop, and function normally."

The new nutritional therapy is manufactured by a major pharmaceutical company which sponsors this clinical trial. For more information about the clinical trial at UCSF, please contact Heyman's office at (415) 476-5892.