When it comes to the diagnostic process, many refer to their journey as a “diagnostic odyssey.” For those with rare or underserved conditions, diagnosis often requires months – or even years – worth of visiting doctor after doctor. But in the case of ulcerative colitis, researchers recently discovered that six inflammatory protein precursors can be found in the blood anywhere from 1 to 15 years before the condition develops. According to News Medical, a research team from Örebro University identified, for the first time ever, which form of inflammation exists in those who later develop ulcerative colitis. If you’re interested in learning more, the full study findings can be found in Gastroenterology.
Ulcerative Colitis (UC)
To begin, it is first important to understand what this condition is. Ulcerative colitis exists under the umbrella of “inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)” and is a chronic condition which causes ulcers and sores within the large intestine. This condition affects the colon and rectum. Risk factors include being young adults or being over 60 years old, being of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, or having a family history of IBD. Currently, there is no available cure. However, there are treatment options available to manage symptoms. These include antibiotics, biologics, immunomodulators, corticosteroids, and aminosalicylates. Symptoms include:
- Bloody stool
- Diarrhea and/or loose and urgent bowel movements
- Unintended weight loss
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Abdominal pain
In the past, a lot of the research around ulcerative colitis has centered around immune hyperactivity following symptom onset. However, researchers sought to understand what happens within the body prior to the condition’s development. To begin, researchers sourced blood samples from the Northern Sweden Health and Disease Study, which have been collected over a 30+ year period. In particular, researchers wanted to examine samples from those who were healthy at the time of donating, but later developed ulcerative colitis. Researchers found that:
- Patterns existed in the bloodwork of patients who later developed ulcerative colitis. While researchers saw patterns in over 90 inflammatory molecules, they identified six specific proteins associated with this condition.
- After testing these proteins against a separate list of those with confirmed ulcerative colitis, researchers saw that the same 6 inflammatory molecules were present.
- In a study involving twins, in which only one had this condition, researchers found 4 of the 6 proteins in the healthy twin. Altogether, this suggests that these inflammatory molecules may not cause ulcerative colitis alone, but could potentially, with some genetic or environmental triggers, cause the condition to develop.