Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and colon cancer can be treated with experimental breakthrough therapy. The findings come from UCLA where researchers have found a way to suppress the development of ulcerative colitis by using a chemical inhibitor capable of blocking an RNA molecule (microRNA-214) involved in the transmission of genetic information.
High levels of microRNA-214 are commonly found in ulcerative colitis patients who are also at a higher risk of colon cancer.
Thirty percent of patients who complain of gastrointestinal pain are typically diagnosed with indeterminate inflammatory bowel disease. Even after much testing many specialists find it difficult to diagnose Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
In the two-year study, researchers examined 401 colon tissue samples from patients with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), sporadic colon cancer, and colitis-associated colon cancer. These samples were compared to samples not affected by any of the listed diseases.
The researchers hope analyzing these samples could make it easier to decipher between the different diseases to improve diagnosis. They developed a systems approach that could expedite the drug discovery process by utilizing sophisticated computer programs and high-tech robotics that combines molecular and clinical information to identify the most important genes to create new drugs. This is what led the researchers to discover microRNA-214.
Research lead Dr. Dimitrios Iliopoulos said, “The first steps of the drug discovery process usually take five to six years, and by using our novel approach we expedited the drug discovery process only in two years. We evaluated this drug in mice with ulcerative colitis and colon tumors and found that in both cases it was highly effective to suppress these diseases.”
The researchers will continue to test microRNA-214 inhibitor and will apply for investigational new drug application with the FDA. They hope to begin clinical testing some time in the near future.
Risk of colon cancer in ulcerative colitis
It is well known that patients with ulcerative colitis are at a greater risk for colon cancer. In inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), like colitis and Crohn’s disease, there is chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal system. Having inflammation in the colon increases the risk of colon cancer, compared to individuals who do not have inflammation.
The risk factors for colon cancer in IBD patients include disease duration and the extent to which the colon is involved. The risk of colon cancer doesn’t emerge until eight to 10 years of having IBD. Those with large involvement of the colon in their IBD are at the highest risk for colon cancer, compared to those with the least involvement.
Signs and symptoms of colon cancer in IBD include change in frequency of bowel movements, diarrhea, constipation, feeling that the bowel doesn’t empty completely, bright red or very dark stool, narrow stool, general stomach discomfort, weight loss for unknown reason, constant fatigue, and vomiting. Although these symptoms may appear as an IBD flare-up, you should still speak to your doctor about your experience as it could indicate early colon cancer.
Routine colonoscopies can check the colon for polyps or any changes that may indicate colon cancer. Speak to your doctor about your risk of colon cancer, especially if you have had IBD for over eight years.