May 28, 2024

Promising New Target for Treating Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Colitis-Induced Colorectal Cancers Identified

A recent study conducted by scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has identified a potential target for treating inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and related colorectal cancers. Published in the journal JCI Insight, the study reveals a previously unknown function of a protein called the farnesoid X receptor (FXR). The protein is crucial for gut health and is implicated in the development of severe and chronic forms of IBD, such as colitis, which also increases the risk of colorectal cancer.

The FXR protein plays a critical role in controlling the production of bile acids that aid in the digestion of fats. It works together with bile acids to maintain a healthy gut by regulating gut bacteria, promoting a healthy intestinal lining, and influencing immune cells called macrophages, which protect the digestive system from pathogens. However, when the FXR protein malfunctions, this delicate balance can be disrupted.

The researchers studied mice with chronic gastrointestinal inflammation that resulted in the growth of colon tumors. This condition resembled colitis-associated colon cancer in humans. They discovered that the FXR protein was not functioning properly in these mice, affecting the signals it sends to regulate bile acids. This led to changes in the chemistry of bile acids within the gastrointestinal tracts of the mice, affecting both the host and microbial bile acids.

As a result, there was an increase in certain proteins called cytokines that promote inflammation, due to the altered bile acids. This finding provides compelling evidence for how FXR dysfunction can disrupt the behavior of gut macrophages and initiate a cycle of inflammation, leading to colitis and aggressive cancers.

The study’s lead author, Xingchen Dong, a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Pharmacy at UW-Madison, expressed excitement about the findings, highlighting the ability of gut macrophages to sense and respond to both host and microbial bile acids. This discovery opens the door to potential interventions targeting the FXR protein and bile acids to prevent and treat IBD and colitis-induced colorectal cancers.

IBD affects millions of people worldwide and is characterized by chronic inflammation in the digestive tract. It encompasses conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which can cause debilitating symptoms. Colitis, in particular, is a severe form of IBD that can significantly impact the quality of life of those affected. Moreover, individuals with colitis face a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.

The current study sheds light on the role of the FXR protein and bile acids in the progression of these diseases. By understanding the mechanisms by which gut inflammation leads to the growth of tumors, researchers can develop targeted therapies that address the underlying causes and provide relief for patients suffering from IBD and colitis-induced colorectal cancers.

While further research is needed to validate the findings and develop effective treatments, this study represents an important step towards improving the lives of individuals affected by these conditions. With the identification of the FXR protein as a potential therapeutic target, scientists and healthcare professionals can work towards developing personalized therapies that address the specific needs and challenges faced by patients with IBD and colitis-induced colorectal cancers.

1.      Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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