An international team of scientists has recently identified new genetic targets for drugs to treat Crohn's disease. Researchers analyzed DNA from 1,758 Crohn's patients and 1,480 healthy people, all of European ancestry. What appears to be most significant to the biology of Crohn's disease is the interleukin 12 (IL 12)  pathway, which governs cell receptors involved in the development of Crohn's disease. Earlier research has shown that monoclonal antibodies (which are used to stimulate the immune system to fight disease and which block the IL 12 receptor) have had some success in treating Crohn's disease.

Developing targeted therapies, such as monoclonal antibodies, based on gene pathways might enable doctors to personalize treatment based on the patient's genetic profile.

This latest discovery is good news for the more than one million Americans suffering from Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, another type of inflammatory bowel disease, which can cause abdominal pain, ulcers, and diarrhea.

In addition to the findings about the IL 12 pathway, earlier studies on Crohn's disease are also shedding light on the genetic links to the disorder. Over the last four years, scientists have identified 21 new genetic regions implicated in Crohn's disease, bringing the total to 32 known number of genes and loci-regions of the genome that include one or more genes believed to increase susceptibility to the disease. Understanding the underlying biology of Crohn's disease, say researchers, will make them better equipped to treat patients more effectively.

Evidence that genetics plays a role in Crohn's disease has been around for some time. For example, the disorder tends to run in families and is more common in certain ethnic groups, especially people of central and eastern European Jewish descent.

Currently, two-thirds to three-quarters of Crohn's disease patients will need surgery to relieve symptoms or to correct complications such as intestinal blockage, perforation, abscess or intestinal bleeding, although surgery does not rid patients of the disease.