IBD Studied in African-Americans

Researchers have conducted an in-depth evaluation of the genetics of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in African-Americans — the first study of its kind, as most research on IBD has been conducted on Caucasian and Asian populations. IBD has also historically been underdiagnosed among African-Americans, though more and more cases are now reported every year.

Evaluating more than 1,500 African-American patients, the study, co-authored by a Cedars-Sinai researcher, found that African-Americans shared several genetic risk factors for IBD with whites and Asians.

People with IBD experience chronic and often debilitating inflammation of the digestive tract. These diseases, which include ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, are lifelong. They can cause severe diarrhea, pain, fatigue, anemia, weight loss and an increased risk of cancer.

"The hope is that genetic advances in IBD will allow us to develop new therapies and more personalized approaches to managing these chronic diseases," says Dermot McGovern, MD, PhD, director of Translational Medicine at the Cedars-Sinai F. Widjaja Foundation Inflammatory Bowel and Immunobiology Research Institute, professor of medicine and biomedical sciences and a co-senior author on the study. "This research is important because it extends these possible advances to the African-American population, who may be at risk of more severe IBD."

McGovern, with colleagues at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Emory University, looked for new regions of the genome that might raise IBD risk in African-Americans. They found strong evidence for previously unidentified variations in one major IBD gene.

Analyses performed at Cedars-Sinai investigated cellular pathways — complex systems of internal communication — that result in IBD development. A number of pathways were similar to those seen in white patients. However, a few appear to be unique to African-Americans — which could lead to more personalized approaches to managing and preventing disease.

In addition to three senior authors, the study was authored by 52 investigators in the United States and Canada.