Researchers May Have Discovered the Cause of Crohn’s Disease

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via Flickr

via Flickr

On Wednesday, scientists at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine may have discovered the cause of Crohn’s Disease, a chronic condition that affects around 700,000 people in the United States. Research revealed people with Crohn’s have less good bacteria in their guts, and a specific strain of bad bacteria interacts with a fungus inside their intestines, creating a biofilm that can cause inflammation, the source of Crohn’s disease symptoms.

Scientists previously understood that genetics and environment play a role in developing the disease, but this new factor could one day lead to new treatments and possibly a cure.

According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, “Crohn’s disease belongs to a group of conditions known as Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD). Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract.”

There is currently no cure.

As someone who has Crohn’s Disease, I can assure you it is very unpleasant. The main symptoms are fever, fatigue, diarrhea, and weight loss, but there are plenty of life-threatening complications that can go along with those symptoms as well as mental issues from the stress of having an incurable disease. Treatment for the disease can sometimes be expensive, ineffective, or even life-threatening, leaving many people with Crohn’s to find new and creative ways to deal with extreme pain and unmentionable bathroom situations.

I approached this most recent news with skepticism. First, there’s the fact that many modern scientific findings cannot be replicated. Second, this research was conducted on 20 people with Crohn’s and 28 people without Crohn’s from nine families, as well as 21 people without Crohn’s from four other familes in France and Belgium. That’s an extremely small sample size.

It’s fun to think about a cure for Crohn’s disease, but scientists aren’t yet sure how much of a role this bacteria-fungus relationship has in causing the disease. Together with environment, diet, immune system issues, and genetics, it could be playing a very small part. It will take years of research to determine how this information can help create a new treatment, even longer developing and testing that treatment, and then releasing it to the public. Not to mention the fact it could hit the market and be incredibly expensive or even shoot up 681% in price after some money-hungry pharmaceutical CEO figures out people need it.

Lastly, there’s a small sensation of guilt associated with knowing scientists are spending valuable resources on a disease that affects 700,000 Americans. Sure, it can lead to feet of intestine being removed, or under weird circumstances limb amputation, but as someone with Crohn’s I would much rather these resources go towards treatment for cancer, AIDS, MS, or ALS. For the most part, I can get by with Imodium and a package of wet wipes. However, I am quite aware I have a moderate case. People with severe cases of Crohn’s or colitis can miss weeks of work or spend days in the hospital every month during flares. I’m sure those people love the idea of scientists working towards a cure.

And while there are plenty of reasons to remain skeptical, there are also plenty of reasons to have hope. There’s not a single aspect of Crohn’s that I enjoy, and while I understand that due to the slow nature of research and science associated with diseases I’ll probably die with or because of Crohn’s, it’s nice to think that future generations won’t have to deal with it. Because trust me, it’s a real pain in the ass.


Michael Sapenoff is a writer and artist in Kansas City. Follow him @MikeSapenoff

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