A new discovery could lead to new Crohn's disease treatment


Crohn's disease

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Scientists at the University of British Columbia have made a discovery that could potentially lead to treatments for a debilitating complication of Crohn's disease.

An inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's can cause the intestines of some patients to become blocked by thickened and scarred connective tissue — a condition known as fibrosis. When fibrosis occurs, patients have to undergo surgery so proper digestion can be restored. Multiple surgeries are not uncommon in Crohn's patients.

Scientists have discovered a mutation that prevented mice from developing fibrosis after they were infected with a type of salmonella that mimics the symptoms of Crohn's. The mutation had switched off a hormone receptor responsible for stimulating part of the body's immune response.

"We found what we think are the inflammatory cells that drive fibrosis," said co-author Kelly McNagny, professor of medical genetics and co-director of the UBC Biomedical Research Centre (BRC). "The gene that was defective in those cells is a hormone receptor, and there are drugs available that may be able to block that hormone receptor in normal cells and prevent fibrotic disease."

What's more, McNagny and his colleagues are hopeful that their discovery could be applied to other types of tissue that experience fibrosis.

"Fibrosis is a response to chronic inflammation, but it is also a process that occurs during normal aging. If you can reverse this, you've essentially found a way to promote regeneration rather than degeneration," said lead author Bernard Lo, a PhD candidate at BRC.

Liver cirrhosis, chronic kidney disease, scarring from heart attacks and muscle degeneration all result in tissue fibrosis, noted McNagny. "We think that we can potentially block complications of all these age-related fibrotic diseases by dampening these particular inflammatory cell types," he said.

The next step for McNagny's lab will be to test drugs to find out whether they can stop or reverse fibrosis in mice.

Their research is outlined today in Science Immunology.

Scientists at the University of British Columbia have made an important discovery in understanding the cause of fibrosis in Crohn's disease. The findings offer a target for potential therapies, and could also lead to treatments for diseases of aging. Video courtesy of UBC.