Scientific corner

Leukocytapheresis for the treatment of IBD

Fridrik Thor Sigurbjörnsson & Ingvar Bjarnason, Nature Clinical Practice Gastroenterology & Hepatology volume 5, pages509–516 (2008)

Leukocytapheresis is a controversial nonpharmacologic treatment for IBD, in which white blood cells–the effector cells of the inflammatory process–are mechanically removed from the circulation. Current controversy centers on the uncontrolled nature of the leukocytapheresis trials performed and their use of different outcome measures in patient groups that have very variable disease activity and severity. Nonetheless, the efficacy data obtained are generally quite consistent: an excellent response (remission >80%) has been achieved in corticosteroid-naïve patients with ulcerative colitis and an average remission rate of more than 50% has been achieved in patients who have steroid-dependent or refractory ulcerative colitis. Interestingly, the largest randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled study of granulocyte-monocyte apheresis in patients with moderate to severe ulcerative colitis failed to demonstrate efficacy for the induction of clinical remission or response. Regardless, leukocytapheresis seems to be remarkably safe. The precise positioning of leukocytapheresis in the treatment of ulcerative colitis is uncertain at present and will vary according to geography and patient preference for a safe, nonpharmacologic treatment. Further efficacy studies are required to assess what the optimal number and frequency of treatments is, in addition to the need for head-to-head comparisons with established drugs.

Enthusiasm for the use of leukocytapheresis in the treatment of patients with IBD (mainly ulcerative colitis) is fueled by the lack of serious adverse effects and tempered by the lack of conventional placebo-controlled data or head-to-head comparisons with potential competitors

Leukocytapheresis induces clinical remission in more than 80% of corticosteroid-naïve patients who have ulcerative colitis

Average remission rates are in excess of 50% in patients with moderate or severe ulcerative colitis and in patients with corticosteroid-dependent or corticosteroid-resistant ulcerative colitis

Data in Crohn’s disease are sparse and further studies are required

Leukocyte apheresis clearly has potential use in patients with ulcerative colitis, but to decide its precise positioning in treatment algorithms will require targeted studies

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