Treatment hope for Crohn's disease

Researchers find a way to block the immune system response that causes the painful symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases.

Maja Begovic 3 minute read December 23, 2020
woman with stomachache siting on bed

Study has found a way to relieve symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease in mice models. GETTY

Researchers have made progress toward a potential new treatment that may help relieve symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) — a condition that often causes painful and debilitating abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition.

A University of Alabama research study has shown that colitis flareups in mouse models of Crohn’s can be relieved by adjusting the response of different immune cells. In some people with Crohn’s, the immune system — particularly T effector cells — launch an abnormal response to gut microbes,  triggering a widespread attack that harms human cells too, which can lead to bowel inflammation, pain and other uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms. But according to the study, scientists were able to block the protein that produces the troublesome T effector cells to help stop the response that normally would trigger signs of IBD. Similar results were found in tests conducted on the human cells of those of people living with Crohn’s.

Canada, an IBD hotspot

Canada has one of the highest rates of IBD in the world, according to a study in the Journal of the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology, but it doesn’t affect Canadians equally, Ontario and Quebec having the highest prevalence, followed by British Columbia and Alberta, reports Crohn’s and Colitis Canada.

According to the national charity, 270,000 Canadians live with inflammatory bowel disease, a number that is expected to rise to 400,000 in the next decade. While the cause of IBD is not clear,  genetic and environmental factors including smoking, diet, and antibiotics.

Seniors with IBD on the rise

People over the age of 65 are the fastest growing demographic in Canada with IBD — a group that may face more complications because of age-related conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Children can also be affected by Crohn’s, according to Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, with the number affected rising more than 50 per cent in the last decade.

While there is currently no cure for Crohn’s, medications and treatments like antibiotics, immunosuppressants, steroids, biologics and biosimilars can be used. Surgery is also sometimes an option.

Although the new study is good news for those living with irritable bowel disease, more work needs to be done toward finding a cure, state the researchers. However, they are optimistic that the treatment can not only help people with Crohn’s live symptom-free, but also potentially be adapted to help treat other autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes or multiple sclerosis.

If you or someone you care about is living with ulcerative colitis, connecting with a support network can help to not only learn ways to better manage their health, but also share experiences with others. Information, resources and patient support groups can be found at Crohn’s and Colitis Canada and Gutsy Support.

Maja Begovic is a writer with

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