What is the issue addressed by this study?

Crohn’s disease occurs when the immune system within the intestine starts reacting to the harmless bacteria that live alongside it as if they were a threat. In many ways, it is surprising that we all don’t develop this disease as the immune system lives side-by-side with huge numbers of intestinal bacteria in all of us. To prevent this reaction occurring, the immune system produces chemicals such as IL-10 that reduce these responses.

We do not fully understand why some people develop Crohn’s disease, but past research has shown that certain immune cells become “reprogrammed” to stop responding to IL-10, increasing inflammation and contributing to the symptoms of Crohn’s.

Although all cells have the same genes within them, the genes are switched on (expressed) and off though a process called epigenetics. The research team have found that the genes expressed by monocytes in Crohn’s disease are quite different to those from healthy people, suggesting that this reprogramming has wide-ranging effects on the activity of these cells.

What is the aim of this study?

The research team want to understand this epigenetic reprogramming of monocytes in Crohn’s disease and in particular how it contributes to an inability to respond properly to IL-10. Recent developments mean epigenetic changes can be measured much more broadly. These techniques are incredibly powerful but are hard to perform and are very costly. Therefore, this funding will allow the epigenetic characteristics of immune cells to be better understood, giving further insight into how the disease functions. Ultimately, the team hope this will open up opportunities for new treatments.

The research team

This project is led by Dr Andrew Stagg at Queen Mary University of London.