Researchers May Have Discovered the Cause of Crohn's Disease

A fungus present in the intestines is key in whether or not a person develops the disease

Researchers May Have Discovered the Cause of Crohn's Disease
Image: Pixabay
September 28, 2016

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have discovered a potential key factor behind the development of Crohn's disease.

The researchers discovered a fungus in the intestines that plays a key role in whether or not people develop the disease. To prove the association, they connected the fungus to bacteria already found to be associated with the disease.

"We already know that bacteria, in addition to genetic and dietary factors, play a major role in causing Crohn's disease," said Dr. Mahmoud A Ghannoum, the study's senior author. "Essentially, patients with Crohn's have abnormal immune responses to these bacteria, which inhabit the intestines of all people. While most researchers focus their investigations on these bacteria, few have examined the role of fungi, which are also present in everyone's intestines."

This finding may be groundbreaking. It could lead to the development of new Crohn's treatments and, ideally, even a cure.

The scientists made their findings by studying cultures of fungi and bacteria in Crohn's patients and their first-degree relatives in Belgium and northern France. They discovered that there was a very close and prominent relationship in Crohn's patients between two bacteria and one fungus. In contrast, the same interaction and number in their healthy family members was far lower.

After conducting more tests, the researchers found that the three microorganisms worked together to make a biofilm that coated a part of the intestines, a biofilm that they discovered prompted inflammation. Inflammation is one of the main symptoms of Crohn's.

"Among hundreds of bacterial and fungal species inhabiting the intestines, it is telling that the three we identified were so highly correlated in Crohn's patients. Furthermore, we found strong similarities in what may be called the 'gut profiles' of the Crohn's-affected families, which were strikingly different from the Crohn's-free families," said Ghannoum.

The reason the findings are noteworthy is because this is the first time that Crohn's disease in humans has been linked to a fungus. It should be noted, however, that at this point the researchers are not stating that the bacteria and fungus are the definitive cause of Crohn's. They intend to keep an open mind in their future work regarding "identifying precipitators and contributors of Crohn's."

That being said, they are optimistic that their discovery will be put to good use future research and development.

"Our study adds significant new information to understanding why some people develop Crohn's disease," said Ghannoum. "Equally important, it can result in a new generation of treatments, including medications and probiotics, which hold the potential for making qualitative and quantitative differences in the lives of people suffering from Crohn's."