A team of scientists at the University of Edinburgh are participating in a Canadian coordinated global quest to find causal mechanisms at work in development of the currently of an incurable bowel disorder Crohn’s disease.
The Crohn’s and Colitis Canada Inflammatory Bowel Disease Genetics, Environmental, Microbial (GEM) Project, based at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, is an international research study attempting to determine possible causes for Crohn’s Disease by following healthy individuals who are at a higher risk for developing the disease over time. The researchers encourage healthy individuals who have a sibling and/or parent with Crohn’s Disease to join the effort and help find a cause.
It is hoped that greater understanding of how takes hold can also help explain why the incidence of the disease is increasing alarmingly in certain global regions, including Scotland, and that that the research project’s findings provide guidance for scientists in their effort to design better Crohn’s treatments.
The researchers say greater understanding of the workings of Crohn’s could enable them to provide better health advice to families of persons afflicted.
Crohn’s disease is a devastating, incurable, chronic inflammatory bowel disease involving gastrointestinal tract inflammation that can occur anywhere along the convoluted pathway from mouth to anus. Crohn’s symptoms typically include stomach pain, urgent diarrhea, rectal bleeding, weight loss, nausea, and profound lethargy that often lead to a lifetime of abdominal pain and sickness. It is believed that a variable concatenation of genetic, environmental and microbial factors is responsible for development of the disease although no precisely specific cause has been identified. There is currently there is no preventative protocol against Crohn’s disease and it is unknown why some people develop the illness while others don’t.
A University of Edinburgh release notes that Scotland now has the dubious distinction of having one of the world’s highest rates of Crohn’s disease, with an increasing prevalence in younger people. Among whom incidence has been doubling every ten years of the past four decades.
“Over the last ten years we have made significant progress in understanding the genetic underpinnings of Crohns disease. However this only accounts for about a third of why somebody gets the disease. We need to look at healthy people and follow them over time to truly understand which factors cause the condition and which are consequences of the inflammation in the gut that occurs as part of the disease,” comments Dr Charlie Lees, a consultant gastroenterologist based at the Western General Hospital, and at Shawfair Park Hospital in Edinburgh, and is a senior Clinical Lecturer at the Centre for Genomic & Experimental Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.
The release notes that the strongest risk factor for developing Crohn’s disease is having an affected first degree relative, and that nearly 200 genes have been linked to the illness but not everyone inheriting these genes will succumb to the disease.
Diet is also believed to be an important factor along with the homeostatic balance of bacteria and other micro-organisms that inhabit the gut and how the body’s immune system interacts with these biologic hitchhikers.
Global Study Focuses On Family
As fore-noted, the international GEM study is focusing particularly on immediate families of Crohn’s disease patients, rather than patients themselves, since it is projected that some of these family members will eventually develop the condition while many will not. Study participants are requested to provide blood, urine and stool samples, as well as to complete a questionnaire outlining their dietary habits and other lifestyle factors.
“Crohns disease is a devastating and life-long condition, with an increasing prevalence in younger people,” says Helen Terry, Director of Research at Crohns and Colitis UK, noting that “while scientists have learned a great deal about the disease and significant advances have been made in research, there are still many unanswered questions. We urgently need a better understanding of what causes this disease and we are excited by the potential of the GEM research project.”
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine are coordinating the U.K.’s contribution to the GEM study, and hope to recruit 1000 relatives of Crohn’s patients from hospitals across the United Kingdom.
University of Edinburgh
The Genetics, Environmental, Microbial (GEM) project – Mount Sinai Hospital
University of Edinburgh
Crohns and Colitis UK