Medical sciences have gone far in the last decades. Our life expectancy has increased dramatically, and we are now able to identify, cure and even prevent a wide range of diseases that decades ago were untreatable. However, despite all the progress, there are some conditions that keep on slipping away from our full understanding. This is what happens with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).
IBD includes a set of widespread disorders that involve chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. One of its main characteristics is its complexity: IBD involves many genes, molecular mechanisms and clinical manifestations that make it especially difficult to study and treat. Additionally, IBD symptoms show high variability among patients, making the work even harder. That is why these disorders are usually approached through diverse angles to advance in their understanding.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are prominent research fields that embrace a great variety of scientific initiatives. Along with New Deal’s efforts to develop a new targeted therapy for IBD patients, here are some examples of research projects that are trying to deepen our understanding of this pathology.
Finding the right treatment
One of the limitations that IBD patients face in terms of disease management is the lack of curative therapies. All treatments used nowadays are focused on relieving symptoms, as there are no drugs available yet that can heal IBDs for good. However, even among the drugs that ease the symptoms, there is a strong variability in patient response to them.
Biocycle project is trying to find the best treatment option for long-term use in Crohn’s disease patients. They aim to study and modify existing IBD therapies so that they can both control the symptoms and avoid the progression of the intestinal damage. For this purpose, they will evaluate different treatments considering patients’ characteristics and they will try to develop a reliable decision-making protocol. Biocycle is carrying out this research along with a study of the treatment’s health-economic impact and relapse risks. Their goal is not only to improve patients’ well-being but to do it in a cost-effective and affordable way.
Biocycle started four years ago and it is now proceeding with its clinical trials. Their last patient will be out of the trial in March 2021. Meanwhile, the team is collecting biological samples, conducting surveys with patients and health care providers, and developing the mathematical model needed for the decision-making tool. With 3.5 years more to go, we can expect some news about preliminary results by 2022.
Monitoring the disease
When doctors need to check an IBD patient’s status, they usually perform diagnostic tests that involve invasive methods. This can be quite unpleasant for the patients, especially considering that, as IBDs are chronic, recurrent testing is required. Moreover, some of the procedures, such as endoscopies and colonoscopies, can cause several complications which aggravate the patient’s condition, so monitoring is limited by the risk they carry.
Researchers of the Euphoria project are developing a novel non-invasive imaging process for IBDs diagnosis by combining lasers and ultrasound. The technology they are testing is called Multi-Spectral Optoacoustic Tomography (MSOT), and it is being optimized to measure the level of inflammation in tissues based on how they respond to different light wavelengths. This procedure would be painless and risk-free for patients, allowing more frequent testing and better monitoring of the disease.
The latest news about this project is the start of the clinical investigation, which has just been registered this month. Now researchers are preparing for the large-scale clinical trial on IBDs patients to validate the application of MSOT.
Looking into the core
The variability found between IBD patients makes it difficult to know how they will respond to treatments or what the best approach is in each scenario. Genetics may be key to overcome this limitation. There are many genes that are related to IBD and that differ among patients. These distinctions could help identify disease markers to improve diagnostics and develop personalized therapies.
SYSCDs is one of the projects trying to find this “core signature” in chronic inflammatory diseases and use it to further study prediction strategies. They are focused on autoimmune diseases such as IBDs, systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis. Their goal is to understand shared features between these diseases and to find out their specific alterations that can work as markers for each condition. When this knowledge is achieved, they are planning on taking it one step further and develop new therapies based on it.
Now, SYSCDs scientists are working in the bioinformatical analysis of patients’ samples, the first step of this ambitious project.
These initiatives are a great example of the multidisciplinary effort that is being done by researches to better understand IBDs. The journey may still be long, but by the combined contributions of projects like Biocycle, Euphoria, SYSCDs and our own New Deal, we get a little closer every day.