Scottish researchers are moving closer to finding new ways of diagnosing and treating patients with debilitating bowel conditions.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis – together known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – are common causes of chronic ill-health, especially in Sottish children, where the incidence of Crohn’s has increased by 500 per cent in the past 50 years.
Researchers in Edinburgh are now taking part in studies to identify early changes in the bowels and blood of patients which would lead to earlier diagnosis, better treatment and more information on the potential causes of the conditions.
Symptoms of IBD include stomach pain, weight loss, diarrhoea and extreme tiredness. Drugs can be used to treat the symptoms, but often patients require major surgery to relieve their suffering.
Now researchers from Edinburgh University will work with two international teams of clinicians and scientists in the £15 million programme, to help identify tell-tale signs in the blood or bowels of patients that point towards the two diseases and could help early diagnosis.
They hope to identify molecules or proteins – known as biomarkers – that are specifically associated with the development of bowel diseases, and to track how the illnesses progress in patients over time. In this way, the team hopes to spot the most markers for predicting progression of the disease.
The scientists will use cutting-edge scientific techniques – including DNA, protein and microbiological analysis.
These biomarkers could also make it easier to predict how serious a patient’s illness could become, and to predict their response to treatment. As well as providing clues about the possible causes of IBD, the researchers hope to pinpoint new targets for better treatments.
Scotland has among the highest rates of IBD in the world, though the reasons behind this remain unclear.
It is thought environmental factors, such as diet or levels of vitamin D, may play a part in causing conditions which affect one in every 100 to 200 people.
Professor Jack Satsangi, professor of gastroenterology at Edinburgh University, said: “Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are now common causes of chronic ill-health throughout the world, and in Scotland incidences are increasing rapidly.
“The fact the EC has chosen to support two studies involving Scottish patients highlights the fact that the impact of diseases in this country is recognised to be high, and that current therapies are often not successful.”
Thousands of newly-diagnosed patients across Europe and North America are to be recruited for two research trials, which will be run by scientists and clinicians from the UK, Sweden, Belgium, Spain and Norway.