Clinical research and ulcerative colitis: what is the latest?

Ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), is an inflammation that affects the large intestine (colon) and rectum. It’s different from Crohn’s disease, another type of IBD, which can affect any part of the digestive tract from mouth to rectum. According to Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, approximately 700,000 people in the U.S. are affected by ulcerative colitis, which most often starts occurring between the ages of 15 and 30. Over time, long-lasting inflammation and ulcers develop that can lead to a range of symptoms.

While the underlying cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown, it is currently believed to be an autoimmune condition related to a combination of risk factors including genetics, the environment, and an overactive immune system. Recent studies have suggested that there are at least 25 genetic links to IBD risk.

These studies, led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute at Hinxton in the United Kingdom, also found that a family of transmembrane proteins called integrins play an important role in risk. Integrins link cells and their environment, acting as bridges for interactions between the immune system and the rest of the body. Some of the genetic links risked to IBD may also “raise expression of certain integrins when stimulated by the immune system,” according to the study, but more research is needed.

Scientists have also recently discovered that a specific protein called RNF5 controls the activity level of another protein, S100A8, which is a promoter of inflammation. The researchers, at Sanford Burnham Prebys (SBP) Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla, CA, and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, discovered that RNF5 “is the lock that keeps a key inflammatory protein under control,” according to senior investigator Ze-ev A. Ronai. “RNF5 also appears to be a potential predictor of disease severity, and could be used as a diagnostic marker,” he concludes. This discovery should lead to more consistent targeted treatments for both those with ulcerative colitis and those with Crohn’s.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have suggested that one simple dietary intervention—eating three-quarters of a cup of strawberries every day—could improve gut health and decrease colonic inflammation. In the study on mice, not only was the colonic tissue’s inflammatory response diminished, but harmful gut bacteria decreased while beneficial bacteria increased.

Another recent study discovered that soy protein may help alleviate symptoms. Researchers at the Pennsylvania State University studying the effects of replacing 12 percent of dietary protein with soy protein concentrate found that “soy protein concentrate mitigates markers of colonic inflammation and loss of gut barrier function,” stated Amy Wopperer, researcher.

Ultimately, increased research funding and participation in clinical studies is the best way to discover new treatments—and, ultimately, a cure—for ulcerative colitis. Meridien Research has studies that are enrolling. For more information or to see if you or someone you know may qualify to participate, please contact us today at 1-888-777-8839 or visit our individual study pages.