Finding Causes and Triggers

A common question asked by patients and their caregivers is "What causes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis?" Unfortunately, the causes and triggers of these chronic diseases remain unknown.

With the support of grants from Crohn's and Colitis Canada, the researchers noted below are moving us closer to discovering the factors that lead to the onset of these diseases by researching environmental triggers, genetic markers, and more.

2023 Grant Recipients

Wael Elhenawy

Dr. Wael Elhenawy | University of Alberta, Edmonton
Research: Understanding the persistence of Crohn’s disease-associated bacteria in the gut
Date: 2023-2026
Amount: $375,000

A strain of E. coli has been found to form protective structures – biofilms – in the gut environment that protect bacteria from the immune system. This research seeks to determine the role of these biofilms in Crohn’s disease, specifically the protection of bacteria that allows them to suddenly multiply, driving inflammation and disease flares. Currently, antibiotic treatments to decrease these unwelcome bacteria also attack health-promoting ones as well. This research will increase understanding of how bacteria use biofilms to survive in the gut. These insights will guide the development of new drugs to target gut microorganisms that contribute to Crohn’s disease inflammation.

Sun-Ho Lee

Dr. Sun-Ho Lee | Sinai Health System, Toronto
Research: Metagenome-assembled genome analysis and Antibody epitope repertoire profiling to characterize the Preclinical phase of Ulcerative Colitis
Date: 2023-2024
Amount: $50,000

As part of the Genetic, Environmental and Microbial (GEM) Project that has been following 5,000 first-degree relatives of people with Crohn’s disease since 2008, 15 have developed ulcerative colitis. The blood and stool samples they provided when they entered the GEM Project will be used to investigate whether there are bacterial, fungal and viral connections with the development of colitis. The findings could contribute to reshaping how a person is assessed for colitis risk, potentially enabling earlier diagnosis as well as gut bacteria, fungus and virus treatments.

  • 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.

Other Areas of Interest