Genetic and Microbiome Discoveries Point the Way to New Treatments for IBD

March 3, 2014

New York, New York— March 3, 2014 - High-powered research teams supported by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) are gearing up for an ambitious new goal:  developing individualized treatment approaches for patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC), also known as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), through their Genetics and Microbiome Research Initiatives.

“Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are really many different disease processes that lead to similar symptoms,” Herbert W. 'Skip' Virgin M.D., Ph.D., Edward Mallinckrodt Professor and Chairman of the Department of Pathology and Immunology, Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Medicine, and Pathologist-in-Chief, Barnes-Jewish Hospital Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis. “Therefore even people with very similar disease symptoms may need medicines that are specifically targeted to the pathways specific to their personal disease story. That means we have to be able to personalize our treatments and scientific approach.”

The CCFA Genetics Initiative is seeking to define the molecular pathways in humans that mediate the more than 100 internationally- identified genetic factors that contribute to IBD risk . Some of these pathways are known, but need to be better understood. Others are as-yet-unidentified.  Seven high-priority genetic pathways that regulate immune function or the intestinal lining cell response to injury have been designated for intensive investigation in the Genetics Initiative; at least two of them may be targetable by existing drugs or chemicals.  Other candidate genetic pathways are under intense scrutiny for their possible role in IBD. The vision of the Genetics Initiative leaders is to assemble a super-community of researchers with the goal of rapidly generating effective new drugs to treat or possibly even cure and prevent IBD, based on these pathways. In parallel, 14 different bacterial metabolic profiles associated with IBD have been identified in the complementary Microbiome Initiative—and may provide important new targets for treatments and diagnostic tests.

At the same time, converging evidence from the CCFA Microbiome and Genetics Initiatives has shown that certain IBD-related genes affect the types of bacteria living in the gut. Starting in 2014, researchers will start developing the first microbiome-based therapies.  These "first-generation" microbiome therapies will likely include drugs developed to block specific bacterial metabolic pathways, along with dietary supplements to redirect bacterial metabolites.

"This would be the first time ever that a treatment would be developed to address the cause, rather than the symptoms, of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis," R.Balfour Sator, M.D., CCFA Chief Medical Advisor and Midget Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Microbiology & Immunology, and Director of the UNC Multidisciplinary IBD Center. “We anticipate that in the next three to five years, we will have isolated microbial targets and develop strategies that will form the basis for new therapeutic interventions."

Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are painful, medically incurable illnesses that attack the digestive system. Some 1.4 million American adults and children suffer from Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. For more information, visit, call 888-694-8872, like us on Facebook, find us on LinkedIn or follow us on Twitter and Pinterest


Crohn's & Colitis Foundation

The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation's mission is to cure Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, and to improve the quality of life of children and adults affected by these diseases. The Foundation ranks third among leading health non-profits in the percentage of expense devoted to research toward a cure, with more than 80 cents of every dollar the Foundation spends going to mission-critical programs. The Foundation consistently meets the standards of organizations that monitor charities, including the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance ( and the American Institute of Philanthropy (

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