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Major cause of Inflammatory Bowel Disease discovered

Published 06 June 2024

A groundbreaking piece of research has been published this week that could lead to greater understanding of Crohn’s and Colitis and possibly new treatments in the future.

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute have found a major new cause of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Using genetic analysis, the researchers found a section of genetic code (DNA) that is active in macrophages. Macrophages are a type of immune cell that cause inflammation in people with IBD. The section of DNA that they found is one of the main controllers of macrophages. It boosts a gene called ETS2, which controls the inflammatory chemicals that the macrophages release. So higher levels of ETS2 are associated with more inflammation in the gut. Some people have a version of the genetic code that makes their body more likely to over-respond to an inflammatory stimulus.

There are no medicines currently available that just block ETS2. But there are medicines already used for other conditions that could switch off the inflammatory effects of ETS2. In theory this would reduce inflammation in the gut of people with IBD. But these medicines, known as MEK inhibitors, can have serious side effects on other parts of the body. So, the next stage of research is to find ways to get the MEK inhibitors to target the macrophages in the gut.

Using genetics as a starting point, we’ve uncovered a pathway that appears to play a major role in IBD and other inflammatory diseases. Excitingly, we’ve shown that this can be targeted therapeutically, and we’re now working on how to ensure this approach is safe and effective for treating people in the future.

Dr James Lee, 

Group Leader of the Genetic Mechanisms of Disease Laboratory at the Crick Institute

What does this mean for people with Crohn’s or Colitis?

Any changes in treatment due to this research for people with Crohn's or Colitis are likely to be several years away. But researchers around the world will be interested in this research and what it means for future treatments.

The more we can understand about Inflammatory Bowel Disease, the more likely we are to be able to help patients live well with these conditions. This research is a really exciting step towards the possibility of a world free from Crohn's and Colitis one day.

Ruth Wakeman,

Director of Services, Advocacy and Evidence

Crohn’s & Colitis UK are proud to have been involved in funding this work. Thank you to all our supporters and members who enable us to fund and support exciting research such as this study.


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