UCLA scientists discover experimental therapy for chronic inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer

Human small intestine and stomach anatomy

UCLA scientists have discovered an experimental therapy capable of suppressing the development of ulcerative colitis, a disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis patients have an increased risk of developing colon cancer, but doctors still are unsure why.

The treatment uses a chemical to block an RNA molecule that’s involved in the transmission of genetic information and is typically found in high levels in people with ulcerative colitis.

Dr. Dimitrios Iliopoulos, a member of UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Dr. Christos Polytarchou, a UCLA assistant professor of digestive diseases, examined 401 samples of colon tissue from people with UC, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, sporadic colorectal cancer and colitis-associated colon cancer, and compared them to healthy specimens.

The authors expedited the process of identifying the most effective treatment using sophisticated computer programs and robotics (video) that combined molecular and clinical data, and enabled them to zero in on key genetic information. The state-of-the-art approach shortened the drug discovery process, which might have taken five or six years, to just two.

“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,” Iliopoulos said.

The study was published online by Gastroenterology and will in the journal’s October 1 print edition.

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