How epigenetics influences IBD

February 10, 2015

A University of Chicago Medicine lab was the first to demonstrate the differential expression of microRNAs—small noncoding RNA molecules encoded in the human genome—in human IBD and immune function. Now, says John H. Kwon, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine, Section of Gastroenterology, and a dedicated researcher in the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center, “we have expanded our investigation of epigenetics to look at long noncoding RNA regulation in IBD and cell function, and have initiated studies looking at the influence of DNA modification (methylation and hydroxymethylation) on IBD.”  

Dr. Kwon believes that epigenetic mechanisms may mediate some of the effects of environment, genetic predisposition and intestinal microbiota on IBD’s development and progress. Research from his lab could provide biomarkers for diagnosing the disease, and predicting its progress and response to therapy. It could also lead to the creation of new therapeutic strategies for IBD.

Because IBD likely results from a combination of genetic, epigenetic, microbiome and individual host immune functions, studying disease mechanisms in individual patients has become an essential aspect of IBD research. In recognition of this, the Section of Gastroenterology has developed a Translational Research Core directed by Dr. Kwon.  All IBD patients at UChicago Medicine are recruited into a registry so their cellular data can be analyzed in dynamic ways by Dr. Kwon and other investigators in the IBD Center.

“This helps us understand not only a patient’s clinical history but how his or her disease changes over time,” Dr. Kwon says. “Our ultimate goal is to create a citywide registry of IBD patients at all major medical institutions, so we’re vested in the health of all IBD patients in the Chicago area. Using this clinical data, along with genetic, epigenetic and microbiome data, will help us make better diagnoses and ultimately, find a cure.”