Experts and scientists from 19 European countries are getting together to investigate the causes of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) with the aim of better understanding the condition and improving diagnosis and treatment.

The team is led by researchers from the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg and Karolinska Institutet, both in Sweden. They have set up the Europe-wide network GENIEUR – an interdisciplinary network for researching into the causes of IBS.

GENIEUR, which stands for Genes in Irritable Bowel Syndrome Europe, was funded by the European Science Foundation. Its main aim is to identify the genes and DNA variants which might be linked to a higher risk of developing IBS symptoms.

According to health authorities in Sweden, IBS is the second most common cause of work absenteeism, after common colds – over 10% of all Swedish adults live with IBS.

IBS diagnosis is made after some signs and symptoms are confirmed, including:

  • Constipation (or a change in bowel habits)
  • Diarrhea (or a change in bowel habits)
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain and cramping – usually relieved by going to the toilet
  • Flatulence (wind)
  • A feeling you need to go again after going to the toilet
  • Passing mucus from the anus

Signs and symptoms are sometimes so severe that the patient’s quality of life is affected.

There is currently no cure for IBS, because its etiology is unknown. Current remedies may help relieve some of the symptoms, and may not work for everybody.

GENIEUR consists of over 70 research groups and is led by Dr Beate Niesler at Heidelberg University Hospital’s Institute of Human Genetics; it also includes scientific teams from the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg and Karolinska Institutet.

Co-Chair of the GENIEUR, Professor Magnus Simren, said “Our goal is to use the knowledge of researchers with different expertise in order to solve the mystery of IBS.”

Mauro D’Amato, from Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Biosciences and Nutrition, says that IBS is only modestly inherited. We know of very few predisposing genes. D’Amato formed part of the scientific team that discovered TNFSF15 and NPSR1, two genes involved in IBS.

D’Amato added: “We need very large numbers of thoroughly-characterized patients in order to increase our chances to detect true genetic predisposing factors”.

One of GENIEUR’s first tasks is to set up a large IBS biobank of clinical material from both patients and health controls. Hopefully, this will help them seek out and identify reliable biomarkers and create a catalogue of criteria so that patients may be assigned to specific clinical subgroups.

The network consists of a wide range of scientists and health care professionals, including:

  • Gastroenterologists
  • Human Geneticists
  • Bioinformatic Specialists
  • Epidemiologists
  • Immunologists
  • Microbiologists
  • Neurobiologists
  • Nutritionists
  • Physiologists
  • Psychiatrists

Professor Simren said: “With this broad knowledge included, the potential to achieve clinically important discoveries for this large group of patients is tremendous.”

According to GENIEUR, its scientific objectives are:

“The aim of this Action is the creation of a pan-European interdisciplinary network to identify genetic factors contributing to IBS etiopathogenesis. This will be facilitated by the creation of a phenotyping tool and the coining of endophenotypes (quantitative traits) for correlation analyses.

The interdisciplinary connection of clinicians specialized in functional GI disorders, immunology and psychiatry and basic scientists focusing on (epi-) genetics, microbiomics and phenotypic analysis of case-control cohorts in the COST Action is an important prerequisite for success in this field.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist