Harvard and Cambridge researchers have uncovered new clues to Crohn's disease that open the door to new treatments for the debilitating intestinal disorder. The findings, published in the journal Nature
, indicate the condition is caused by a disorder of specialized cells — called Paneth cells — that line the intestines.
The discovery that the cells play a key role in bowel inflammation — a hallmark of the disease — could lead to the first new treatments in many years, the researchers said.
"If we are able to break down Crohn’s disease into subsets by understanding the underlying mechanisms, which we have done here, we hope to develop much more targeted, effective treatments," said researcher Arthur Kaser, from the University of Cambridge. "The discovery of the Paneth cells'
role in inflammation of the bowel also raises the possibility of entirely novel therapeutic approaches."
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Crohn's disease is a life-long immune-related disease that starts in early adulthood, and involves cramping pain, diarrhea, weight loss, urgency, abscesses, and fever. Flare-ups of the disease are followed by periods of remission, and it can be unpredictable.
Scientists believe it develops in people who may be genetically predisposed to it when they are exposed to unknown environmental factors.
About 700,000 Americans have the condition, according to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America.
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