Researchers have isolated a gene that predisposes people to Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that is on the rise in industrialized nations.
“This is a critical step toward improved diagnosis of the disease and developing better therapies for Crohn’s sufferers,” says Dr. Katherine Siminovitch, a professor of medicine at U of T and a senior scientist at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital. “There’s an urgent need for better treatment for patients with Crohn’s disease.”
Dr. Siminovitch and a team of researchers isolated the gene, which produces a protein that regulates how substances enter and exit cells. In the majority of patients with Crohn’s disease, this protein functions improperly, allowing toxins easier access to cells.
The ability to test for this protein malfunction will help physicians to distinguish between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, the other major form of inflammatory bowel disease. This information can also be used to diagnose Crohn’s disease at an earlier stage and develop new approaches to treatment, says Dr. Siminovitch. Existing treatments can require recurring hospital stays and surgeries.
Dr. Siminovitch and researchers from U of T, Ellipsis Biotherapeutics in Toronto and the University of Texas are now developing a chemical that will alter the protein to restore its normal function.