Diverticular disease is common and caused by small pouches in the large bowel that can bleed or become inflamed (diverticulitis). Some patients need simple treatments, while others may develop severe infection (sepsis) leading to emergency surgery; currently this is difficult to predict.

Environmental factors on epigenetics

We want to take a novel approach and look at how environment (e.g. ageing, smoking and diet) may cause small changes to how our genes (DNA) work (epigenetics). By looking for epigenetic changes in blood samples from patients admitted with either mild diverticulitis or complicated perforated disease, and comparing them with those from healthy individuals, we hope to understand more about their impact on diverticular disease, and explain why some patients get mild disease and others life threatening sepsis.

While we cannot change our DNA code (this is passed down from our parents) epigenetics looks at how small changes can alter how our genes work (e.g. switching them on and off).

These changes can be reversed, so this research could be a first stage in helping identify patients with higher risk of sepsis, leading to earlier interventions and improved clinical outcomes.


This research project will be led by Mr Frank McDermott at Royal Devon & Exeter Foundation Trust/University of Exeter