Research led by Biodesign scientists Josh LaBaer and Ji Qiu, along with gastroenterologists Shabana Pasha and Jonathan Leighton from Mayo Clinic Arizona, successfully discovered several molecules, called biomarkers, that were unique indicators found only in individuals with Crohn’s disease. Josh LaBaer, the Biodesign Institute’s interim executive director stated, “If we are going to truly alter the natural history of Crohn’s disease and help people, we needed to develop a new test for early, accurate diagnosis, as well as administering appropriate therapy.”
LaBaer, who leads a team of 100-plus interdisciplinary scientists as director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics said, “We are particularly excited about the links between the immune response against self proteins and Crohn’s disease, as this may give physicians a new avenue to explore both the potential cause and treatments.” Their broad vision focuses on the discovery and validation of biomarkers to provide early warning for those at risk of major illnesses, including diabetes, cancer, and autism to improve patient outcomes.
The medical cause of Crohn’s disease is still a mystery with no medical explanation or cure. However, in the course of the disease, the body’s own immune system is somehow triggered to attack the gut. Knowing this, LaBaer and Qiu advanced a new approach, immunoproteomics, to broadly sift through the entire repertoire of immune system proteins in the blood and identify early bell weathers of Crohn’s disease, the most common inflammatory bowel disease.
Crohn’s currently afflicts about 3 out of 1,000 people in the United States, and for some unknown reason, the incidence is also on the rise. Crohn’s is often associated with chronic, debilitating stomach pain, diarrhea, and other symptoms that may come and go. One in five people will have to be hospitalized each year, and surgery may eventually be required for the most severe cases. Inflammation is often a sign that the immune system has been triggered. Crohn’s diagnosis can be very difficult, and involves either expensive medical imaging from MRIs, invasive biopsies, or cataloging the symptoms. Doctors’ primary course of action is to help relieve patients suffering from chronic gut pain and symptoms through anti-inflammatory drugs.