IBD Breakthrough: Major DNA-Linked Cause of IBD Found

A team of British researchers has identified a biological pathway that is associated with the majority of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) cases in addition to other autoimmune conditions. The breakthrough research, which was published in the journal Nature in June 2024, could lead to new, targeted treatments for the condition.

Tough to treat

IBD – which includes two chronic intestinal conditions, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis – is an auto-immune disorder. This means the symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding, among others, are caused by the body’s own immune system attacking the intestine. Current IBD treatments focus on healing gut inflammation. While we have several therapies in our armamentarium, they do not currently work for everyone.

One of the most frustrating aspects of dealing with IBD, which affects 1.6 million Americans, is that there is no cure. Living with IBD can affect other organ systems, mental health, and overall quality of life.

An IBD breakthrough

The researchers showed that a particular gene, ETS2, is a key to the inflammatory response that causes damage to intestinal tissue during an IBD flare-up. When this gene is overexpressed – when it is too prevalent and active – the researchers found that it caused IBD. To corroborate their findings, researchers also analyzed inflamed IBD tissue specimens and found increased ETS2-regulated genes in those specimens.

“There are so many new and exciting developments for the management of inflammatory bowel diseases. This breakthrough study has identified a gene that, when overexpressed, can lead to inflammatory conditions, including IBD,” said Erica R. Cohen, MD, director of the chronic care inflammatory bowel disease program and research at Capital Digestive Care. “These findings open new therapeutic possibilities for chronic inflammatory disease, offering the potential for innovative and targeted therapies in the future.”

The researchers were also able to link other genes connected to IBD to ETS2, providing further evidence that the ETS2 pathway is crucial in IBD. This research represents a significant advance in understanding the inflammatory mechanisms related to IBD and the potential to develop new and targeted therapies.

Hope for new treatments

This research sets the stage for game-changing treatments to come. Because ETS2 is such a major driver of IBD, therapies that target it could effectively “switch off” the cause of IBD flare-ups. This research will help pharmaceutical companies develop new drugs to target ETS2 directly.

In the meantime, this study’s researchers also identified a group of drugs called MEK inhibitors, which are prescribed for other conditions but may reduce ETS2 overexpression indirectly. Being able to target ETS2 through the use of MEK inhibitors is an exciting finding that could act as a bridge treatment until direct targeted therapies for ETS2 are developed.

For now, millions of people suffering with IBD have a new reason to cheer.

“Every day, we are learning more and more about the complex pathophysiology of IBD. As clinicians, we see the direct impact IBD can have on a patient’s life,” says Dr. Cohen. “This news should emphasize the importance of research and clinical trials to patients, caregivers, and clinicians alike.”