Science Questions

Can the muscles in the bowel be repaired?

Sun, 17th Dec 2006

Part of the show The Christmas Q & A Show


Mary in Peterborough asked:

Can the muscles in the lower part of the bowel be repaired?


Well those types of muscles are what are called smooth muscle. And this is different to the parts of the body which you move around voluntarily, things like your arms and legs. They have a slightly different form of muscle. The answer is that they can't necessarily spontaneously repair unless you give them a bit of help. What scientists are now finding is that there are certain stem cells that we can inject into people. And those stem cells come out of the blood, they go into the muscle, and they then turn into muscle cells, and they can repair. And there's a scientist who's working in Italy, who published a paper recently when they were looking at muscular dystrophy, which is a disease of muscle in the legs and the arms, skeletal muscle. And they managed to steal some stem cells from the walls of blood vessels, put them into the blood stream of some dogs that had muscular dystrophy, and the dogs got better. Because the cells they injected went into the muscles and repaired them. But in terms of repairing the bowels, it depends why there are problems with the muscles in the bowels. There are a number of disorders, which can affect your intestines, and it depends which one you've got, and whether or not it's possible to put it right. There's one disease which is called Hirshprung's disease and in this one, for some reason you don't get proper nerve connections formed along the bowels, and so messages which tell the bowels to push food along don't get through properly. So the bowels don't work very well. That's very difficult to repair unfortunately. But there are some disorders where, if there is a bit of the bowel which isn't working properly, by taking it away, and stitching the two ends together, you can overcome the problem. Your bowel has a hell of a lot of nerves in it, it's got as many nerves as parts of the brain in fact, and it can actually learn. That's why we have a bowel habit. Your bowel actually learns what your daily rhythm or pattern is all about.



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