Diversifying the Crohn's research pool


Among complex diseases, Crohn’s disease is a poster child because of researchers’ success in identifying genetic variations that contribute to the risk of getting it.

However, one group is missing from the poster: African Americans, among whom rates of Crohn’s have been increasing.

A type of inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s can involve episodic abdominal pain, diarrhea, blood in the stool, and weight loss. Severe cases lead to intestinal blockage, requiring surgery.

 Although studies have identified dozens of genetic variations that contribute to disease risk in people of European descent, most of these are not expected to contribute to disease risk in African Americans, says Emory pediatric gastroenterologist Subra Kugathasan.

Kugathasan is leading a $4.8 million NIH trial—the first large-scale genomic study of Crohn’s disease in African Americans—which will recruit 1,500 participants nationally. Although no cure exists for Crohn’s, he believes the investigation can help guide better treatments and differentiate between existing treatments.

“Future drugs for Crohn’s disease will be based on genetics, and more specifically tailored to the patient,” he says.—Quinn Eastman

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