McMaster-led research 'potentially game-changing' for Crohn's disease treatment

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A discovery by a McMaster University-led research team could lead to relief for the millions of people living with Crohn’s disease.

Professor Brian Coombes says his team has identified a strain of adherent-invasive E-coli (AIEC) that is prevalent in the intestines of people with Crohn's disease.

"If you examine the gut lining of patients with Crohn's disease, you will find that around 70 to 80 per cent of them test positive for AIEC bacteria, but one of the things we don't understand is why," Coombes told McMaster’s news outlet, Brighter World.

"We believe that AIEC is a potential trigger of Crohn's disease."

Researchers from Hamilton-based university, as well as Harvard University, made the discovery by mutating every gene in a particular strain of AIEC and testing how these mutants grew in mice.

According to Coombes, AIEC bacteria grow in a biofilm that coats cells lining the intestinal wall, protecting them from both the immune system and antibiotics.

Crohn's disease is caused by the immune system's inability to "switch off" its inflammatory response to gut bacteria, according to research.

Symptoms include severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition.

Coombes says current treatments focus on easing the inflammation but do not address the root cause.

"New therapies are on the way - we are one step closer to figuring out how this Crohn's disease-associated bacteria lives in the gut and when we do that, we can develop new treatments."

Coombes is also the chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, as well as the Canada Research Chair in Infectious Disease Pathogenesis.

Funding for the study was provided by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and Crohn's and Colitis Canada.

The team's findings were led by postdoctoral fellow Wael Elhenawy and published in Nature Communications.

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