World IBD-Day takes place on the 19th of May, and is led by patient organisations from over 50 countries. The day unites people from all over the world in raising awareness of IBD and supporting patients living with the condition. Professor Kaija-Leena Kolho, University of Helsinki, has been working with children’s gastrointestinal disorders for a large part of her career, and for the past few years she has been an important advisor and collaborator for Aqsens Health. For this year’s World IBD-Day she shared some of her thoughts about IBD and the research collaboration with Aqsens Health.
What is IBD?
Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or IBD, is an umbrella term used to describe the chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Nearly 10 million people worldwide live with IBD, and its prevalence is growing every year.
“The IBD patient numbers are growing quickly in the Nordics and in the West in general. It has also become more common in children. In Finland there are as many IBD diagnoses in child patients as there are Type 1 diabetes diagnoses,” Professor Kolho explains.
There is currently no definite cure for IBD, but it can be managed with medications. The two main forms of IBD are Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis. The two diseases often present with similar symptoms, but they actually present in different parts of the gastrointestinal tract.
Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition that can affect any part of the human GI tract, however it is most commonly found in the small intestine. It is common for patients with Crohn’s to go through periods of remission and relapse. The severity of the symptoms often changes over time – sometimes the inflammation is very severe, and sometimes the symptoms disappear almost completely.
Unlike Crohn’s disease that can affect any part of the GI tract, Ulcerative colitis (UC) occurs in the large intestine or the rectum. In most countries, Crohn’s disease is more common than UC but in Finland UC has been more prevalent. In patients with UC, the lining of the colon becomes inflamed, causing small, painful ulcers to develop. Similarly to Crohn’s disease, the patients often go through periods of remission and relapse.
Aqsens Health’s IBD research collaboration moves forward
During the last two years Aqsens Health has been working closely together with Professor Kaija-Leena Kolho. The collaboration has been an effort to establish Aqsens Health’s E-TRF method’s applicability in screening for IBD, and more importantly, on detecting Crohn’s disease from saliva.
“Crohn’s disease can also be present in the mouth, which is why we are confident that with novel technology it could be detected from saliva. It would also enable large-scale epidemiologic studies and help us find people who have the disease, but whose symptoms haven’t appeared yet. We would be able to try and catch the disease early on, and we could learn more about what happens in the body and in the microbiota before the symptoms start,” Professor Kolho says.
As more people are diagnosed with a form of IBD every year worldwide, the cumulative costs to healthcare systems and economies also rise. Serious symptoms often affect the patient’s quality of life and can seriously interfere with their ability to work.
“When the disease is active, it has a big impact on the patient’s everyday life. If you’re scared of having sudden diarrhea, accidents, or having bloody stool, it of course causes a lot of concern and can affect your ability to go to work or school. In young patients these concerns often lead to isolating yourself into your own house, which in turn has a lot of negative effects on the patient’s mental well-being,” Professor Kolho describes.
The saliva test would not replace the already existing diagnostic test, but it would create more options, both for patients and in research.
“For some patients collecting a stool sample can have some uncomfortable connotations, so it would be significantly more comfortable for the patient if we could ask for a saliva sample instead,” Professor Kolho says.
“We don’t need a test that would replace the currently used tests. But if we could develop a complementary test that could lessen the number of stool samples needed, it would also be a positive advancement for patients and in terms of research,” Professor Kolho summarizes.
Aqsens Health and Professor Kolho’s collaboration continues in 2021, and we are excited to delve deeper into the research and to carry on with the development of a saliva-based screening test for Crohn’s disease.
World IBD-Day is coordinated by the European Federation of Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis Associations (EFCCA). Read more about World IBD-day here: https://worldibdday.org/, and for more information on IBD in English, visit https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-is-ibd.