Scientists Find New Method to Sort Ulcerative Colitis Patients

According to a story from, a team of scientists affiliated with the Swedish Karolinska Institutet have developed a new method for categorizing patients with the rare inflammatory bowel disease ulcerative colitis. The division is based on gene expression and separates patients into two separate groups. This division could be valuable for future treatment and drug research. The approach may be relevant for other autoimmune illnesses as well.

About Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is a long term condition which is characterized by the appearance of ulcers and generalized inflammation of rectum and colon. The exact cause of the condition remains a mystery, but there do appear to be some risk factors, such as family history, diet, and exposure to the medication isotrentinoin. Smoking appears to have a slightly protective effect. Symptoms can include anemia, bloody diarrhea, weight loss, fever, and abdominal pain. They tend to appear in as relapsing-remitting pattern. In severe disease there is a risk of serious complications, such as megacolon or inflammatory disease in other parts of the body. The risk of colon cancer is also elevated. Treatment may include dietary changes, medication to control inflammation, and, when complications appear, surgery. To learn more about ulcerative colitis, click here.

Gene Expression and Treatment Response

Only as much as 60 percent of patients with ulcerative colitis respond consistently to the currently available treatments for it. These treatment results are far from satisfactory and hinted to the likelihood that there was greater variability between cases than originally thought. This is what led the researchers to use gene expression to categorize ulcerative colitis patients. The team determined which genes were relevant to the disease by identifying genes whose expression was altered in both human patients and in a mouse model.

The researchers found 57 genes that had altered expression because of the disease. The two groups of patients were dubbed UC1 and UC2. The scientists found that 87 percent UC1 patients failed to respond to the most commonly used biologic drugs. The UC1 group was characterized by higher expression of genes associated with recruiting neutrophils, a type of white blood cell. These conclusions could ultimately contribute to more personalized treatment of ulcerative colitis in the future. 

Check out the original study in the journal Nature Communications here.

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