University of Edinburgh to Explore Diagnostic Tools for Crohn's Disease with Funding from Helmsley

Helmsley has awarded a grant to aid University of Edinburgh scientists’ understanding of Crohn’s disease. This is one of the first projects in Scotland to be funded by Helmsley.

The $2.3 million grant will help improve how experts monitor and determine outcomes for Crohn’s disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that affects around 120,000 people in the United Kingdom. The disease leads to painful inflammation and ulcers forming on the lining of the gut, with many patients having to undergo multiple surgeries during their lifetime.

The research at the University of Edinburgh will be focused on finding out more about mitochondria – tiny parts of our cells that are key to providing our bodies with energy. Mitochondria are believed to have evolved from bacteria around 2-3 billion years ago. In IBD, mitochondria have been found to give off ‘danger signals’ that immune cells confuse with bacteria, leading them to trigger an unintended and harmful inflammatory response.

The new project aims to find out if these ‘danger signals’ could be used to develop a simple, non-invasive test using blood or stool that can inform whether the inflamed bowel wall in Crohn’s disease patients has healed or not after treatment. Currently, the only way to determine healing is by using invasive colonoscopy.

In addition, the research project will investigate if this simple non-invasive test could allow doctors and patients to forecast how their Crohn’s disease is progressing, which could speed up the search for new drug therapies. It could also help doctors spot different forms of the disease and develop personalized treatments.

“I am honoured to receive this award from the Helmsley Charitable Trust, which is a reflection on the team’s efforts to understand the role of mitochondria in IBD. We are very hopeful that our work will lead to better tools to predict how the disease affects patients, which could ultimately lead to improvements in their treatment and quality of life,” said Dr. Gwo-Tzer Ho, who is leading the study at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Inflammation Research

“Addressing the unmet medical needs of people with Crohn’s disease is at the center of our Program’s mission. The team at the University of Edinburgh has a tremendous opportunity to create simple diagnostic tools necessary to transform the standard of care for Crohn’s disease patients," said Dr. Garabet Yeretssian, Director of the Helmsley Charitable Trust’s Crohn’s Disease Program.