Gene causing Crohn's disease identified

The discovery will have an immediate impact, allowing researchers to distinguish more readily between Crohn's and colitis, both inflammatory bowel diseases. Canadian researchers have isolated a gene that predisposes people to Crohn's disease, a painful disorder that strikes young people and that has sharply increased in frequency in recent years.

"The diagnostic benefits will be immediate," said Katherine Siminovitch, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. "That's important because you really want to catch these diseases in the early stages . . . then you can start a therapy that might put patients in remission and even eradicate the disease."

Dr. Siminovitch said, however, that development of new drugs based on this genetic finding is a long-term prospect; new treatments are probably a decade away.

The research, published in today's edition of the medical journal Nature Genetics, is nonetheless welcomed by people suffering from Crohn's disease, report

Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease and its prevalence is increasing in industrialized nations. Existing treatments are considered unsatisfactory, often requiring recurring hospitalization and surgery.

The gene isolated by the researchers produces a protein that sits on the cell surface and regulates how substances enter into and exit from the cell. In a majority of Crohn's disease patients, this protein functions improperly and allows toxins easier access to the cell.

Now the ability to test for this protein malfunction will help physicians distinguish between Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, the other known form of inflammatory bowel disease. Siminovitch says that this information can also be used to diagnose Crohn's disease at an earlier stage and to develop new approaches to treatment. She and her fellow researchers are now working on the development of a chemical that would alter the protein to restore its normal function, inform

According to decade ago, researchers began studying 150 families with a genetic predisposition for Crohn's disease, hoping to find a genetic anomaly that might explain what causes the extreme inflammation in the digestive track, a painful irritation that can lead to sores and even bleeding.

They found two genes performed virtually the same function, producing a protein that sits on the surface of a cell and regulates what gets in and out. In Crohn's sufferers, however, there appears to be a lesion on one or both of the genes that produces a faulty protein covering, allowing toxins better access to the cell.

"If you have lesions in both of (the genes), you're much more likely to develop Crohn's," said Siminovitch, a professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto and a senior scientist at Mount Sinai hospital.

The gene is only one aspect of the disease. Doctors say the disease is switched on by environmental factors.

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