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Global initiative underway to find cause of Crohn's disease

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Researchers turn to families to find cause of Crohn's disease

International researchers are teaming up to explore what factors lead to Crohn's disease. Many questions remain about the autoimmune disorder that is difficult to manage and incurable. Scientists from Canada and Scotland are coordinating efforts to uncover why Crohn's disease is on the rise. The scientists are looking at families for help understanding IBD.


The hope is that understanding how Crohn's disease develops will lead to better treatments. Crohn's disease has doubled in young people in Scotland every decade for the past 40-years.

The team is following healthy people who have family members - either parents or siblings - diagnosed with the inflammatory bowel disease in an effort to find out how genes and other factors influence who will get Crohn's disease.

Scientists have identified a number of genes linked to Crohn's disease, but only one-third of people with a family member who has Crohn's develop IBD.

Dr Charlie Lees, a consultant gastroenterologist 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 said in a press release: "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,”

Tracking Crohn's disease before it develops

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Focusing on family member will hopefully give clues to Crohn's disease before it develops. Study participants are asked answer questions about diet and lifestyle factors in addition to submitting urine blood and stool samples.

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.”

The researchers are seeking to enroll 5000 healthy volunteers who have a direct family member with Crohn's disease. There are 3194 study participants so far. Other requirements for joining the study can be found at the GEM study website.

Scientists believe it is a combination of genes, diet and microorganisms that live in the gut that determine who will develop Crohn's disease. The researchers hope to discover the cause of Crohn's disease so it can be prevented. Findings from the study could also lead to better treatments.

Image credit: Pixabay


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