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QIMR researchers lead bowel disease breakthrough

Researchers at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research have helped identify new genetic abnormalities which cause debilitating bowel diseases, including Crohn’s disease.

The discovery could lead to new drug targets and treatments and will help doctors distinguish between the different types of inflammatory bowel diseases, to ensure patients are getting exactly the right treatment for their condition.

Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH) Senior Staff Specialist in Gastroenterology, Graham Radford-Smith, undertook the research at QIMR and was lead investigator of the Australian-New Zealand contingent of the international study. It used a new research technique to compare the results of 75,000 people.

“We’ve found 71 new loci, or sections within genes, which are associated with the major inflammatory bowel diseases Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis,” Associate Professor Radford-Smith said.

“This is a big step forward for our ability to identify which genes are involved in the diseases. These genes and associated pathways are incredibly important in determining your risk, and also open up new targets for drugs to treat the diseases.”

Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are the two most common types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), affecting 1 in every 200 Australians. IBD affects the gastrointestinal system, or gut. Patients have stomach pain, diarrhoea, and weight loss. They need medication for long periods, and many have bowel surgery. There is no cure.

Associate Professor Graham Radford-Smith said the new findings also identified the genetic similarities between Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.

“By understanding that overlap, doctors and scientists can now develop tests that will identify each disease far more accurately. These genetic discoveries will help us to ensure you’re getting the exact treatment you need.

“This is a big step forward for personalised treatments. The Australia and New Zealand Inflammatory Bowel Disease Consortium (ANZIBDC) will continue to develop the enormous potential for patients in this field of genetic research, by applying it to disease and drug-related complications, and to treatment responses.”

ANZIBDC formed in 2008 and consists of 15 Gastroenterology centres throughout Australia and New Zealand.

The findings were published in the latest edition of Nature, which is available online at www.nature.com.