News Release: Research

Aug. 17,  2009

Emory Awarded $5 Million to Study Crohn's Disease in Children

Emory University and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta pediatric gastroenterologist Subra Kugathasan, MD, has received a four-year, $5 million grant from the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) to study the progression of Crohn's disease in children.

The multi-center study will enroll approximately 1,100 children, all recently diagnosed with Crohn's disease, from more than 20 pediatric centers across North America. The purpose of this study is to identify biomarkers found in the blood or stool to predict which children with Crohn's disease are most at risk for developing complications from the disease.

"It is estimated that 15 percent to 20 percent of children with Crohn's disease will develop complications that may require surgery within the first three years of diagnosis," says Kugathasan, study principal investigator and professor of pediatrics in the Emory School of Medicine. Kugathasan also practices at the Emory-Children's Center, a joint venture between Emory and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

"We are developing a risk assessment model that will categorize pediatric patients into different risk levels for their likelihood of developing complications," says Kugathasan.

Crohn's disease is a chronic disorder that causes inflammation of the digestive or gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Although it can involve any area of the GI tract from the mouth to the anus, it most commonly affects the small intestine and/or colon. Considerable progress has been made in irritable bowel disease research, but investigators do not yet know what causes Crohn's disease.

Symptoms of Crohn's disease may include abdominal pain, persistent diarrhea, rectal bleeding, fever and weight loss. Many patients require hospitalization and surgery. Affected children may also suffer from growth and pubertal delay. Crohn's disease can cause severe complications, including colon cancer in patients with long-term disease. It is estimated that more than half a million American adults and children suffer from Crohn's disease, with as many as 100,000 under the age of 18. Most people develop the diseases between the ages of 15 and 35.

This study may also yield results that will allow clinicians to individualize therapy at the time of diagnosis and treat each patient accordingly.

"The data gained from children in this study will apply to all patients, regardless of age of diagnosis," says Kugathasan.

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