A Breakthrough for IBD Patients: Uncovering the Hidden Role of “gene deserts” in Crohn’s and colitis

Genetic molecules representing IBD molecules

Scientists have made an exciting discovery that could change how we understand and treat inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). A new gene called ETS2 has been shown to be a key driver of inflammation in the gut and it has a unique role in directing the shape of DNA.

With over 200 genes involved in IBD, why is this gene important?

For a long time, scientists mostly studied the parts of DNA that contain genes, or instructions to make proteins. They thought the rest of our DNA, called non-coding DNA, wasn’t very important. They even called them “gene deserts.” However, new research is proving that these gene deserts are vital for controlling how genes work.

In a recent study published in the leading scientific journal Nature, researchers found a special DNA sequence in a non-coding region that controls a gene called ETS2. This gene is linked to several autoimmune diseases, including Crohn’s and colitis which causes chronic inflammation of the digestive tract.

IBD affects many people and can cause severe symptoms like stomach pain, diarrhea, and weight loss. The study showed that ETS2 changes the 3D structure of DNA in immune cells – the cells that cause inflammation— turning on genes that cause inflammation.

Could this gene be the cure for some?

This discovery is particularly exciting for individuals living with Crohn’s and colitis. Understanding the role of ETS2 in inflammation provides a new approach to treating the disease. Current treatments often focus on reducing symptoms, but this research points to a potential way to address one of the underlying causes of IBD.


Dr. Deanna Gibson, Chair of the Scientific and Medical Advisory Committee, commented on the study:

“This research is an important step forward in understanding the genetic side of IBD. By uncovering the role of non-coding DNA and ETS2, we have new insights into the one of disease’s root causes- there’s still more to learn.”

Since IBD is a complex disease influenced by many factors, including other genes and the gut microbiome, further investigation is needed. The role of ETS2 must be further probed to understand its role in IBD to translate the findings of this research into therapies for people with IBD.  

  • Canada has among the highest incidence rates of Crohn's and colitis in the world.
  • 1 in 140 Canadians lives with Crohn’s or colitis.
  • Families new to Canada are developing these diseases for the first time.
  • Incidence of Crohn’s in Canadian kids under 10 has doubled since 1995.
  • People are most commonly diagnosed before age 30.

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