Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disorder that results in inflammation of the digestive tract. Abdominal pain, severe diarrhea and fatigue, are among the most common forms of inflammatory bowel disorder.

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When diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, one of the first questions a patient might ask his or her doctor is whether or not it can be cured. Currently, there is no remedy for the disease, and patients are advised to focus more on managing their symptoms, preventing flare-ups, and inducing remission by way of reducing or controlling the inflammations that provokes the symptoms.

With any incurable disease, it can feel disheartening to know that you are simply “stuck” with something unhealthy happening in your body. You can’t take a magic pill to make it go away, nor can you eat a magic fruit. But when news breaks that maybe, just maybe, there is hope, it is worth listening to.

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have discovered a fungus that works with two types of bacteria to cause symptoms of Crohn’s. This is the first study to find a fungus that plays a role in the development of the disease. The hope is that the identification leads to new ways of treating Crohn’s.

“We already know that bacteria, in addition to genetic and dietary factors, plays a major role in causing Crohn’s disease,” explained Dr. Mahmoud Ghannoum, who is a professor and director of the Center for Medical Mycology at Case Western Reserve University and lead author of the study. “Essentially, patients with Crohn’s have abnormal immune responses to these bacteria, which inhabit the intestines of all people. While most researchers focus their investigations on these bacteria, few have examined the role of fungi, which are also present in everyone’s intestines.”
Published in the journal mBio, the study reviewed the fecal samples of 20 people with Crohn’s disease, as well as samples of 28 of their family members who don’t suffer from the disease, and 21 people without the disease whose family members also did not have it.

The researchers discovered that the people with Crohn’s had two bacteria present in their feces — E. coli and Serratia marcescens — that move “in lock step” with the fungus Candida tropicalis. Together, the three produce a biofilm that triggers inflammation linked to Crohn’s disease.

The researchers also noted that the bacteria and fungus came in much bigger concentrations in samples from patients as opposed to their family members. Overall, bacterial and fungal makeup from those without Crohn’s or family with it was very different.

“Among hundreds of bacterial and fungal species inhabiting the intestines, it is telling that the three we identified were so highly correlated in Crohn’s patients,” explained Ghannoum. “Furthermore, we found strong similarities in what may be called the ‘gut profiles’ of the Crohn’s-affected families, which were strikingly different from the Crohn’s-free families. We have to be careful, though, and not solely attribute Crohn’s disease to the bacterial and fungal makeups of our intestines. For example, we know that family members also share diet and environment to significant degrees. Further research is needed to be even more specific in identifying precipitators and contributors of Crohn’s.”

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