Genetics study sheds light on drug targets for intestinal disease

Research in genetics laboratory

University of Queensland (UQ) researchers have used genetics to reveal that much of the risk of developing the common and sometimes fatal diverticular disease of intestine (DivD) is inherited.

The study has identified new drug targets and opened up possibilities for novel treatment strategies.

Dr Yeda Wu and Professor Naomi Wray from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience conducted a genome-wide association study of more than 700,000 people, which showed DivD is highly heritable, with 150 genetic factors linked to the risk of getting the disease.

Dr Wu said until now it was believed that a low-fibre diet was the main risk factor of DivD. “We were very surprised to see that 40% of the risk of diverticular disease of intestine is inherited,” Dr Wu said.

Diverticula are sac-like protrusions in the wall of the intestinal tract affecting 33% of people aged 50 to 59, increasing to 71% in those aged over 80.

“We also found these genes were highly correlated with genes for other digestive diseases, for example, irritable bowel syndrome,” Professor Wray said. “One gene encodes a drug target for IBS-constipation treatments, which is a good justification for this kind of study and how it can be used to find existing treatments that may also work on this disease.”

“We can also use this method to identify other drug targets, opening up possibilities for treatment strategies that could be more effective than antibiotics and surgical removal of the colon.”

The study also showed that people with DivD reported eating less wholemeal or wholegrain bread, had a lower intake of fruits and vegetables, and a lower water intake than people without DivD.

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