Researchers from the Francis Crick Institute and Aalborg University in Copenhagen have made a significant breakthrough in the early detection of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Their study, published in Cell Reports Medicine, reveals that blood tests can detect changes in the body up to eight years before a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease and up to three years before a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis.
The study utilized electronic health records from Denmark, comparing data from 20,000 people with an IBD diagnosis against 4.6 million controls without IBD. The researchers observed changes in various blood parameters, including minerals, blood cells, and markers of inflammation like fecal calprotectin. These changes, although subtle and within the normal range for standard blood tests, were significant indicators of the onset of IBD.
Marie Vestergaard, the study’s first author, expressed hope that this research could lead to earlier prediction and treatment of IBD, improving the quality of life for those affected. The study challenges the previous belief that most people exhibit symptoms for about a year before diagnosis, as significant bowel damage observed at diagnosis suggests longer-term underlying changes.
James Lee, a group leader at the Crick, emphasized the implications for prevention, highlighting a potential window of opportunity for treatment before the disease fully develops. The research team plans to investigate whether early treatment or prevention can impact the disease before symptoms appear and whether these findings can be developed to predict future IBD development.
Tine Jess, director at the Center for Molecular Prediction of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, underscored the importance of understanding the mechanisms behind IBD development, given the chronic nature and early onset of these diseases. This research opens new avenues for potentially preventing IBD and emphasizes the critical need for early diagnosis and treatment.