A major advance has been made in the search for a cure for Crohn’s disease, the debilitating bowel disorder that disproportionately affects Ashkenazi Jews.
Professor Tony Segal of University College London believes he can now identify faulty genes in families in which the disease is prevalent.
Prof Segal made the prediction after he identified two faulty genes as a probable cause of the disease in one family.
He said the finding was “a huge step forward” and, if confirmed, could lead to a cure for Crohn’s sufferers, of which there are 63,000 in the UK.
Crohn’s disease (CD) is an inflammation of the bowel that causes severe abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, weight-loss and fatigue. Sufferers follow strict diets and are often hospitalised when they experience “flare-ups”.
The incidence of CD within the Ashkenazi Jewish community is three to four times higher than in the general population; an estimated 2,000 Jews are affected in this country.
Until this research, the genetic cause of CD remained unclear. By looking at the genetic make-up of Jewish families with a high incidence of the disease, Prof Segal and his team have discovered what appears to be one of its causes: two faulty genes, which in combination are the cause of CD in one extended family of over 200 people.
If further genetic causes are found in other families, he said, “genes like this could be replaced by gene therapy”.