Genetics Initiative

IBD Genetics Initiative—Unraveling the Genetic Components to the Development of Crohn's and Colitis

Scientists have identified over 100 genes that increase the risk of developing Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis—confirming that these often debilitating Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) have a strong genetic component. In a 2006 study, American and Canadian researchers scanned the entire genome—all 22,000 genes—of about 6,000 people. Approximately half had Crohn's disease and half did not, they reported in the medical journal, Nature Genetics. Previous studies have also identified two genes involved in the disease.

The researchers said these findings showed that genetics play a crucial role in the diseases, although environmental factors also are involved. For example, smoking raises one's risk. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis also tend to run in families and are more common in certain ethnic groups, especially people of central and eastern European Jewish descent.

According to the researchers, pinpointing the genes that predispose people to IBD could help lead to new ways to treat it. Over the past decade, the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation has embarked on a campaign to raise 6 to 10 million dollars targeted at a unique IBD Genetics Initiative spanning the next three to five years. Like its sister project, the Microbiome Initiative, this involves the best scientists in the field who will work in a coordinated fashion to build upon and reap the benefits of today’s scientific and technological knowledge.

Through the Genetics Initiative, we hope to someday connect the dots of discovery and uncover new opportunities for curing or preventing the onset of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

163 genes associated with IBD have been discovered, but their functions are unknown.


  • Understand the function of these genes in normal and IBD patients
  • Group patients into clinically relevant subtypes based on their genetic makeup
  • Find gene pathways that will form good targets for design of new drugs to treat IBD
  • Understand how IBD-associated genes increase risk of developing disease – this information can be used to develop strategies to prevent disease