Understanding inflammatory bowel disease | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - November 2007

Understanding inflammatory bowel disease

Action Medical Research has awarded a grant to fund a two year study into the causes of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Dr Rachel Cooney aims to boost our understanding of the causes of inflammatory bowel disease by looking for faulty genes.

“Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis cause chronic inflammation of the gut and can make life truly miserable for the one in 400 people affected in the UK,” explains Dr Cooney. It is common for sufferers to have intense abdominal pain, fever, exhaustion, joint pains and severe diarrhoea, even passing blood. They also must cope with the negative effects that their poor state of health can have on their professional and family lives.

“Sadly, there is no known cure for Crohn’s disease, and major surgery to remove the bowel is the only hope of complete cure for people with ulcerative colitis,” explains Dr Cooney.”Many people therefore have to take long-term medication, with all its associated problems, to help manage flare-ups and try to keep them in remission.”

Close relatives of people with inflammatory bowel disease are at increased risk of developing the illness themselves, which suggests that genes play a role in the disease process. Indeed, some researchers have recently discovered that a gene called NOD2 is associated with some cases of Crohn’s disease. Dr Cooney is performing sophisticated laboratory analyses of DNA from sufferers of Crohn’s disease, those with ulcerative colitis and a group of healthy volunteers. Her studies have the potential to help improve diagnosis, allow us to predict how each person’s disease is likely to develop, facilitate the development of new drugs and allow treatments to be tailored for each individual.

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