May 12, 1997
Media Contact: Marc Kusinitz
Ironically, progress in finding a cure for a serious intestinal disease that affects 400,000 people in the United States is being slowed because researchers don't have enough patients to study, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.
The Hopkins scientists are studying families with Crohn's disease, an inherited intestinal disorder, to track down the genes thought to cause the various forms of the ailment. But the researchers say they need more families to volunteer for the study in order to complete the project.
"We can't develop cures for the different types of Crohn's disease without knowing the causes," says Theodore Bayless, professor of medicine and gastroenterology. "We already know genes causing Crohn's disease are in four different chromosomes. But without more families, we'll be hard pressed to find the genes themselves."
Individuals with Crohn's disease who want to help the researchers don't have to come to Hopkins. Their personal physician can take a blood sample and arrange access for Hopkins investigators to talk to family members.
Crohn's disease, which causes painful inflammation of the intestine and severe diarrhea, may appear in one of three forms: 1) a relatively mild form localized in one area of the intestine; 2) scarring that eventually causes blockage of the intestine; and 3) a more dangerous form that sometimes perforates the intestinal wall. The disease strikes individuals of all ages, and 15 percent of patients are younger than 15, according to Bayless.
Hopkins scientists reported in 1996 that Crohn's occurs earlier in life in people whose parents also have a history of the disease. This form of Crohn's is triggered by so-called genetic anticipation. Also in 1996, Hopkins researchers reported the disease tends to strike the same part of the intestine and cause the same symptoms in close relatives who have inherited it. This suggests Crohn's is actually several different disorders, each inherited separately. Families with Crohn's disease can join the effort to find the genetic causes of this intestinal disorder by calling Leslee Gold at 1-888-279-4194.