Digestive Health

28 August 2014

Scientists spot genetic clues to Crohn's disease

Differences in environmental factors among people – such as diet and gut bacteria – can trigger Crohn's disease in people with several genes linked to the disease.


A new genetic discovery about Crohn's disease could lead to different ways to fight the bowel disorder, researchers report.

The scientists pinpointed chemical changes in Crohn's patients' DNA that affect how their genes work, and said these changes can be detected in blood samples.

Read: New treatment for inflammatory bowel conditions

Along with raising the possibility of a simple diagnostic test for Crohn's, the findings provide new insight into how the disease develops and suggest possible gene targets for new treatments, said the authors of the study. It was published in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.

Environmental factors can trigger Crohn's

Previous research has found several genes linked to Crohn's, but not everyone who has the genes develops the condition.

The findings of this new study involving children with Crohn's disease in Scotland suggest that differences in environmental factors among people – such as diet and gut bacteria – can trigger Crohn's in some people with these genes, the researchers said.

In Scotland, the incidence of Crohn's has increased 500 percent in the past 50 years. Currently, there is no way to prevent Crohn's disease. Therapy focuses on treating symptoms, such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea and severe weight loss.

Read: Vit D could fight Crohn's disease

"Our study gives the strongest evidence yet that epigenetic changes are involved in Crohn's disease. The findings provide a potential mechanism whereby diet or other environmental factors may modify genetic material to cause Crohn's disease," Jack Satsangi, of the Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said in a university news release.

"We hope the findings will help to identify much-needed treatment opportunities for this debilitating condition," he concluded.

Read more:
Living with Crohn's disease
Aspiring model brings awareness to Crohn’s disease
Crohn’s disease support

Image: Intestine with Morbus Crohn from Shutterstock

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Digestive Health Expert

Dr. Estelle Wilken is a Senior Specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. She obtained her MBChB in 1976, her MMed (Int) in 1991 and her gastroenterology registration in 1995.

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