Crohn’s disease in Australia – latest research

What is Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s is an inflammatory disease which affects the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It is incurable and usually chronic with periods of flare ups lasting anywhere from a few days to several months and impacts appetite, energy and bowel movements. Symptoms vary from person to person but can be severe. During healthier periods, those affected may experience anxiety of future flare ups. Crohn’s can occur at any age, but most people are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 30. There is currently no cure.

7 facts about Crohn’s disease

  • Crohn’s affects more than 60,000 Australians
  • Symptoms caused by inflammation in the digestive tract
  • Most people are diagnosed before they’re 30
  • Crohn’s can have serious complications such as intestinal fistulae, which are ulcers that open up in the intestinal wall, creating a passage to other organs
  • Crohn’s can cause symptoms outside of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract too, including joint soreness, painful skin rashes, kidney stones and red, inflamed eyes
  • Scientists aren’t certain of the cause of Crohn’s but it does have a genetic element, as well as environmental factors
  • Crohn’s occurs more in urban and industrialised areas.

How is Crohn’s treated?

Treatments are highly personalised, complex and often aimed at reducing inflammation. Options include tailored diets, steroids, antibiotics and surgery. Medications can be very expensive and some lose effectiveness over time. Many current targeted treatments work by suppressing the immune system, which makes the patient vulnerable to infections.

Together with ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s is classed as an Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), which affects more than 80,000 Australians and is on the rise, particularly in Western countries, and increasingly in developing countries. It is predicted that 1 in 200 Australians will develop IBD.

What are the latest Crohn’s research developments

Research Scientist and Paediatric Gastroenterologist Dr Ed Giles and Associate Professor Rebecca Lim are both leading research into Crohn’s at Hudson Institute.

Dr Ed Giles is leading two Crohn’s studies at Hudson Institute. One is investigating the relationship between the microbiome and Crohn’s. The other is examining our immune system response and its relationship to inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.

Dr Ed Giles, Crohn's researcher, Hudson Institute of Medical Research
Dr Ed Giles

Children diagnosed with IBD have a three times higher mortality rate than the general public before the age of 40. We need to work harder to understand the cause of IBD to develop safer and more effective treatments – Dr Ed Giles

A/Prof Rebecca Lim‘s team is currently conducting a clinical trial testing the use of stem cells (therapeutic amniotic stem cells, from the amniotic sac) to treat patients with fistulae (leaks or abscesses that form in the bowel wall) arising from Crohn’s. This trial recruited patients who did not respond to at least one type of conventional therapy.

A/Prof Rebecca Lim is developing stem cell therapy treatments for Crohn's
A/Prof Rebecca Lim

There really aren’t good treatment options for the serious cases. There’s surgery and then there’s living with it – which impacts quality of life, ability to work and sexual dysfunction” – A/Prof Rebecca Lim

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