College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Hope for Scots with bowel diseases

People living with inflammatory bowel disease will take part in two global studies that may improve treatment.

Scientists are seeking to identify tell-tale signs in the blood or bowel of patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis that point towards the two diseases and could help early diagnosis.

Researchers from the University will work with two international teams of clinicians and scientists in the £15million programme, funded by the EC.

Thousands of newly diagnosed patients across Europe and North America are to be recruited to take part in two research trials, which will be run by scientists and clinicians from the UK, Sweden, Belgium, Spain and Norway.

Growing problem

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are common causes of chronic ill-health in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK - the diseases together now are thought to affect as many as one in 100-200 adults in the UK.

The disease burden is especially great in children in Scotland, where the incidence of Crohn’s disease has increased by 500 per cent in the past 50 years.

Currently there is no way to prevent Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Medical therapy is used to treat the symptoms, which may include abdominal pain, diarrhoea and severe weight loss. Many sufferers require major surgery during the course of the disease.

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are now common causes of chronic ill health throughout the world, and in Scotland incidence are increasing rapidly. The fact that 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. We hope this new research will identify new ways of diagnosing and treating the condition early, as well as provide insights into the causes, and targets for treatment. We need to help to reduce the devastating impact the diseases can have on increasing numbers of adults and children around the world.

Professor Jack SatsangiProfessor of Gastroenterology, Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine

New approach

The team hopes 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 important markers for predicting disease progression in newly diagnosed patients.

Cutting-edge scientific techniques - including DNA, protein and microbiological analysis - will be used to identify the key markers, allowing potentially the most detailed biomarker profiling of patients to date.

These biomarkers could also make it easier to predict how serious a patient’s illness could become, and to predict response to treatment as well as provide critical insight into the mechanism involved in disease development.