Irish scientists have made a breakthrough which could lead to new drug treatments for the condition.
IBD refers to the conditions Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. There is no known cause or cure and some 20,000 Irish people, including hundreds of children, are affected.
The conditions have similar symptoms, including abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fever, loss of appetite and weight loss. Left uncontrolled, symptoms may ‘flare up’, causing severe abdominal pain and frequent visits to the bathroom. If parts of the colon become too inflamed, patients may need surgery and a life-long colostomy bag.
However, new research from the National Children’s Research Centre (NCRC), which is based in Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin, offers hope to those affected.
The researchers found that a protein called IL-36 is found in higher levels at the time of diagnosis in children attending the national paediatric IBD service in Crumlin.
According to lead researcher, Dr Patrick Walsh of Trinity College Dublin, this is ‘good news’ for those affected by IBD ‘as it means it is now possible for someone to develop a drug to treat the condition’.
“If such a drug can be found to reduce IBD levels in children, this might turn off the disease or reduce the symptoms,” he explained.
The research was also carried out by consultant paediatric gastroenterologist, Dr Seamus Hussey, and he pointed out that Ireland’s rate of IBD is on the increase, but the reasons for this are unclear.
“In the past decade the number of new cases of IBD in children attending Crumlin has increased by over 90% and numbers continue to rise.
“There are in the region of 20,000 children and adults in Ireland affected by IBD in one form or another. There is no cure for IBD and while we as doctors try to manage the disease over time, many people with it still end up requiring surgery,” he said.
Dr Walsh added that the only way to find out why the numbers are increasing is to continue researching the disease.
“It is only through these investigations that we can hope to find a reason for the increase, and ultimately to find a better way to treat the condition.”
Details of the findings in relation to IL-36 are published in the journal, Muscosal Immunology.