Crohn's & Colitis

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC), both also known as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), are autoimmune diseases in which the body’s immune system attacks the intestines, resulting in intestinal inflammation, abdominal pain and bleeding.

Crohn's is most prevalent among ages 15-35Crohn’s disease and UC differ primarily in where the inflammation occurs. In UC, inflammation is contiguous and limited to the lining (or “mucosa”) of the colon. Crohn’s disease can be patchy, and can involve any location in the GI tract, but most commonly involves the last part of the small intestine (called the ileum) and the colon. Inflammation in Crohn’s can burrow beneath the mucosa, causing scarring, abscesses or leaking holes called fistulas.

IBD affects approximately 1.6 million Americans (1 in 200), evenly divided between Crohn’s disease and UC, and between men and women. These diseases usually appear in young people, leading to many years of suffering and disability. IBD is more common in northern latitudes, like the Pacific Northwest, where an estimated 50,000 patients are thought to reside. Some likely factors that contribute to this geographic effect are vitamin D deficiency from lack of natural sunlight, genetic predisposition in the North European/Scandinavian heritage, and unknown environmental triggers.

Research Advances 

BRI's immunology research into IBD focuses on understanding the processes that initiate and perpetuate the inflammation, on designing targeted immune therapies to block or reverse these processes, and on clinical trials to evaluate effectiveness and safety of immune modulation in patients with ongoing disease.

Treatments for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Clinical Trials 

BRI works closely with the Digestive Disease Institute (DDI) at Virginia Mason, where approximately 2,000 patients with IBD are followed by one of the most highly acclaimed gastroenterology divisions in the Pacific Northwest, to provide clincal trials in IBD. The DDI maintains a robust IBD clinical research program with extensive experience in national clinical trials including past studies with abatacept and natalizumab, and ongoing studies with novel immunotherapies.

Translational Research 

Virginia Mason tracks clinical outcomes and important metrics of quality care in all patients with IBD. BRI researchers have established an IBD biorespository to better understand the biomarkers associated with the progression of these diseases and to identify targets for new therapies.

Laboratory Research 

Scientists are investigating the interactions between the intestinal mucosa and the regulatory mechanisms of the immune system, to better understand how these mechanisms break down in IBD. BRI scientists are also investigating how genes associated with autoimmunity alter the function of immune cells and lead to disease.

Learn more about BRI's clinical trials in IBD and the IBD Biorepository.