Will the medical community have a much better handle on the mysteries of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) within a decade? Dr. Ellen Scherl of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York raised that possibility in a recent video segment on Fox News in conjunction with Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week.
Scherl, who is also on the medical advisory board of Gastroenterology and Endoscopy News, projected optimism about advances in IBD prevention and treatment, thanks to current genetic research into the causes of this chronic disease, which affects 1.4 million Americans.
The Fox interview coincided with Senate Resolution 199, which set aside December 1-7, 2011, as the first Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week. The resolution recognized IBD patients, family members, caregivers, researchers and health care professionals for their continued work.
An awareness week is important because the two main inflammatory bowel diseases -- Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis -- remain underdiagnosed and misdiagnosed, Scherl said. Furthermore, IBD is affecting children and young adults in greater number, along with being diagnosed in older adults.
Not only is IBD hard to diagnose, but it is also hard to explain to those who have never heard of it. Scherl gave an excellent analogy, likening IBD’s chronic damage to the gastrointestinal tract to the redness, tenderness and inflammation of a bad sunburn. Scherl, director of the Jill Roberts Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease at Weill Cornell, mentioned new molecular biologic therapies for IBD, which are not for everyone, but which can dramatically decrease inflammation in patients who do benefit from such treatment.
Current research is targeting the molecules that cause inflammation, and because there’s a theory of a genetic component to irritable bowel disease, scientists are also beginning to identify the 100 or more genes that are associated with the disease. Other research is studying the gut microbiome and whether it’s possible that a certain bacterium is an environmental cause of inflammation.
“We’re getting closer all the time (to a cure),” Scherl said.