Inflammatory bowel disease breakthrough as new test developed

A new test that could enable personalised treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, has been developed.

Inflammatory bowel disease affects thousands of Scots. Picture: PA

A new test that could enable personalised treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, has been developed.

Scientists say it can reliably predict the future course of inflammatory bowel disease in individuals, transforming treatments for patients and paving the way for a personalised approach.

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Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease – collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – are chronic conditions that involve inflammation of the gut. Symptoms include abdominal pain, bloody diarrhoea and weight loss. There is no known cure, but there are a growing number of medicines that aim to relieve symptoms and prevent the condition returning.

However, the more severe the case of the IBD, the stronger the drugs need to be and the greater the potential side effects.

In the latest study, researchers at the University of Cambridge worked with a cohort of 69 patients with Crohn’s disease to see whether it was possible to develop a useful, scalable test by looking at whole blood samples and using available technology.

Dr James Lee, joint author of the study, said: “Using simple technology that is available in almost every hospital, our test looks for a biomarker – essentially a medical signature – to identify which patients are likely to have mild IBD and which ones will have more serious illness.

“This is important as it could enable doctors to personalise the treatment they give to each patient. If an individual is likely to have only mild disease, they don’t want to be taking strong drugs with unpleasant side-effects.

“But similarly, if someone is likely to have a more aggressive form of the disease, then the evidence suggests the sooner we can start them on the best available treatments, the better we can manage their condition.”

The accuracy of the test is comparable to similar biomarkers used in cancer, which have helped transform treatment, say the researchers. They found the new test was 90 to 100 per cent accurate in correctly identifying patients who did not require multiple treatments.

The findings have been welcomed by Helen Terry, director of research at Crohn’s & Colitis UK.

She said: “It’s really exciting that we are moving away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for people with Crohn’s or Colitis ... and we’re now at the stage where this test will be available in the NHS.”