Cause of inflammatory bowel disease has been discovered by UK scientists in major breakthrough


Expect the NHS to be updating its information page on inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) sometime soon, as it is no longer ‘not clear’ what causes the debilitating condition, according to UK scientists.

Brit boffins have made a major breakthrough which could change the lives of those who suffer from it, as it turns out that effective treatments might have been right under our noses all along.

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute and University College London are keen to set up human trials after realising drugs which already exist seem to reverse the disease in laboratory experiments – so it’s looking up for those with IBD.

If you didn’t know, around half a million people in the UK are suffering from some form of inflammatory bowel disease, but Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are both the most common.

Sufferers typically experience symptoms such as diarrhoea, stomach pain or cramps, blood in their poo, bleeding from their bottom, fatigue and excessive weight loss without trying.

There’s obviously a big overlap between the signs of IBD and other similar conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but you can differentiate between the two as IBD causes inflammation in the bowels.

According to the NHS website at the time of writing, it is ‘not clear’ what causes the disease, but it ‘happens when your immune system attacks your bowel, which causes it to get inflamed’.

Well, experts from Francis Crick reckon they have now finally gotten to the bottom of where this issue stems from.

Studies found that there is actually something of a weak spot in the DNA of people who suffer from IBD, which was present in a whopping 95 percent of people who have the disease.

Dr James Lee, the group leader of the genetic mechanisms of disease laboratory at Francis Crick, explained that his team ‘stumbled’ on the groundbreaking discovery after taking a closer look at a ‘gene desert’.

This is scientific jargon for a stretch of DNA on chromosome 21 which does not code for proteins and has previously been linked to health problems such as IBD and other autoimmune diseases.

The research, which was detailed in Nature, said that scientists realised a particular section of DNA – dubbed an ‘enhancer’ – acts similarly to a volume control for nearby genes.

But this booster was only seen in immune cells, or white blood cells, known as macrophages – where it amplified a gene called ETS2 and dually raised the risk of IBD.

Macrophages flood the linings of the intestines and release chemicals called cytokines, which trigger massive inflammation – and as we all know, too much of this for prolonged periods is uncomfortable to say the least.

Researchers found that the ‘enhancer’ section of DNA is the macrophage’s ‘master regulator’ of inflammation after conducting thorough genetic analysis, which Dr Lee said sits ‘at the top of the pyramid’.

Dr Lee added: “This is undoubtedly one of the central pathways that goes wrong for people to get inflammatory bowel disease. It is the process by which one of the most important cells that causes inflammatory bowel disease goes wrong.”

Dubbing it a ‘holy grail’ discovery, he explained that drugs which are already approved for other illnesses such as cancer were able to calm this excessive inflammation – but they need to be tweaked to perfection to target the macrophages.

Dr Lee said he hopes that clinical trials will be underway within five years.

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