2020 Crohn's disease research round-up

Crohn’s disease, a common form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), is characterized by inflammation in any part of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus. In Crohn’s, healthy parts of the intestine are mixed in with inflamed areas. 

Crohn’s treatments don’t work for everyone, but the main goal is to reduce inflammation. In addition to treatment options, researchers are investigating the root causes of Crohn’s, as well as creating predictive tools to better understand factors that trigger the condition.

We gathered some of the latest research on Crohn's: how antibiotics are associated with an increased risk for IBDs; predicting Crohn’s years before first symptoms; and common foods in diets of US adults who suffer from IBD.

Common foods in diets of US adults who have IBD

A recent study out of Georgia State University and published in PLOS One revealed that foods typically labeled as “junk food” were associated with IBD. Researchers analyzed data from the 2015 National Health Interview Survey and found that foods such as French fries, cheese, cookies, soda, and sports and energy drinks are commonly found in the diets of United States adults with IBD compared to people who did not have IBD. 

For example, eating fries, and frequently drinking sports drinks, energy drinks and soda were significantly associated with having been told one has IBD. On the other hand, consuming milk or popcorn was less likely associated with receiving this diagnosis.

The research team concluded that to fully understand the role of food intake in IBD risk and prevalence, it’s important to explore the impacts of environmental factors and how food is processed.

Predicting Crohn’s years before first symptoms

As part of a series of four studies published in Gastroenterology, a journal of the American Gastroenterological Association, researchers from Mount Sinai derived a predictive model for Crohn’s disease.

In a study of serum biomarkers of military personnel collected and stored by the U.S. Department of Defense, researchers identified 51 protein biomarkers that were predictive of developing Crohn’s disease up to five years before diagnosis with 76 percent accuracy. The lead author, Joana Torres, PhD, MD, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Medicine (Gastroenterology) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, says, “the study suggests that biological processes are activated many years before Crohn’s, opening the possibility of developing targeted strategies that could work to prevent or delay disease onset.” 

Preventative strategies are still a work in progress, but this finding, in tandem with early interventions, will contribute to improved treatments and better outcomes for people suffering from Crohn’s disease. In contrast to Crohn’s disease, no single biomarker, alone or in combination, provided good predictive performance for ulcerative colitis, the other most common form of IBD.

Increased risk of IBD associated with antibiotics

According to a study by researchers at Karolinska Institutet and Harvard Medical School, antibiotics use may be associated with an increased risk of new-onset IBD, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn's. The findings were published in The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology

Through the ESPRESSO study, the researchers identified nearly 24,000 new IBD cases (16,000 had ulcerative colitis and 8,000 Crohn's disease) and compared them with 28,000 siblings, as well as 117,000 controls from the general population. After adjusting for several risk factors, prior use of antibiotics was associated with a nearly two-times increased risk of IBD. Increased risk was noted for both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease with the highest estimates corresponding to broad-spectrum antibiotics.

Lead author, Dr. Long Nguyen of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said "I think this affirms what many of us have suspected — that antibiotics, which adversely affect gut microbial communities, are a risk factor for IBD. However, despite this compelling rationale and seemingly intuitive presumption, there have been no population-scale investigations to support this hypothesis until now." Identifying risk factors for IBD is critical to the ultimate goal of preventing the condition altogether. Curbing unnecessary antibiotic use might be able to push us further toward this aim.

There is a wide array of resources available for people living with IBD, including support groups, advocacy group chapters, local events, online message boards, and helplines. 

Interested in participating in research? Volunteers are needed for IBD studies to continue moving the science forward, and accelerate treatments and interventions.