School of Medicine Researchers Provide New Hope for Children With IBD

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) affects hundreds of children in Ireland and the numbers are rising, but new research led by the School of Medicine’s Dr Patrick Walsh offers hope to people with IBD by opening the door to a new drug therapy.

This National Children’s Research Centre (NCRC) and Science Foundation Ireland-funded research into IBD took place at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin (OLCHC) in children diagnosed with the condition. The research was a collaboration between Dr Walsh and consultant paediatric gastroenterologist Dr Seamus Hussey.

IBD is the name used for diseases which cause ulceration of the digestive tract. The most common forms are Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis. IBD is a chronic, debilitating condition, which prevents the digestive system from working. Symptoms include persistent diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, bleeding, severe weight loss and chronic fatigue.

There are in the region of 20,000 children and adults in Ireland affected by IBD in one former or another.

The key finding from this research, which has just been published in the scientific Journal Muscosal Immunology, is that a protein called IL-36 is found in higher levels at diagnosis in children attending the national paediatric IBD service at OLCHC.

By taking a translational approach, and examining younger patients upon initial diagnosis at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Dr Walsh, along with Dr Shane Russell and Dr Rachel Horan, identified a gene which was altered among a specific group of patients presenting with a form of IBD known as ulcerative colitis.

They then went on to establish in the laboratory that this gene plays an important role in driving inflammation in the gut and may represent a possible future novel drug target for this disease.

Commenting on the research findings, Dr Walsh said: “This is good news for children and adults with 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.”

Dr Hussey added: “Ireland has a growing rate of IBD for reasons that we do not year clearly understand. In the past decade the number of new cases of IBD in children attending OLCHC has increased by over 90 per cent and numbers continue to rise.”

Dr Walsh further added: “The only way to find out exactly what’s happening is to continue our scientific investigations into IBD in children here in Ireland. 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.”

IL-36a Expression Is Elevated In Ulcerative Colitis And Promotes Colonic Inflammation has just been published online in the journal ‘Mucosal Immunology’