Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) are two types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD is a term that describes conditions involving inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

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More than 3 million adults in the United States are living with IBD, so the interest in developing new treatments and building a better overall understanding of these conditions is high.

In recent years, researchers have continually found new information about Crohn’s disease and UC, including better ways to treat them.

This article looks at some of the more recent findings that doctors and scientists have had in relation to Crohn’s disease and UC and the investigational treatments that may lead to better outlooks in the future.

Below, we highlight some of the most important recent research that may contribute to better treatments for IBD in the future.

A new JAK1 inhibitor, AZD4205, shows promise

According to a 2020 phase 1 clinical trial, a Janus kinase (JAK) 1 inhibitor known as AZD4205 shows promise for the treatment of Crohn’s disease. The drug may also promote weight loss and reduce colon density.

The study participants tolerated the medication well, so the researchers are planning to move on to phase 2 clinical trials to test this drug’s safety and effectiveness more thoroughly.

Understanding genetics may lead to new treatments

In a 2021 study, researchers looked at the effect that a mutation in the NOD2 gene has on Crohn’s disease. They found that mutations in this gene can cause certain cells to create an inflammatory effect.

In their research, the scientists also found that inhibiting a protein known as gp130 can help reduce this inflammatory effect.

They propose that medications that target the NOD2 mutation may be an effective future form of treatment. This type of treatment could especially help those who are not responsive to anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF medications) — a common biologic treatment — alone.

UC linked to missing gut microbes

Scientists from Stanford University School of Medicine recently carried out a study that looked at the microbes present in a person’s GI tract. They found that people living with UC had a deficiency in a particular family of bacteria that help prevent inflammation.

The study raised questions about supplementing or replacing the missing bacteria as part of treatment for UC. Several of the same researchers are currently involved in a phase 2 clinical trial looking at the use of a supplement known as ursodeoxycholic acid to see whether it can reduce inflammation and improve quality of life.

Anti-inflammatory diet for IBD (IBD-AID diet) may help

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School created a new diet called the IBD-AID diet to help restore the balance of bacteria in the gut for people with IBD. The diet contains three phases and aims to help a person go into and stay in remission.

There are four components of the diet:

  • Incorporating probiotics: These are fermented foods with live bacteria in them, such as yogurt.
  • Incorporating prebiotics: These foods help feed good bacteria and include steel cut oats, bananas, and onions.
  • Avoiding certain foods: These foods include those that contain lactose, refined sugar, wheat, and corn, as these provide fuel to harmful bacteria.
  • Following a well-balanced, nutritious diet: People can focus on including lean proteins, vegetables, healthy fats, and fruit in their diet and excluding foods high in saturated and trans fats and added sugar or salt.

Siblings may make the best fecal microbiota donors

In a 2019 study, researchers looked at the practical application of a newer therapy known as fecal microbiota transplantation. This procedure helps correct the bacterial imbalance in people living with UC.

The findings showed that siblings close in age to the individual — ideally within 10 years of age — may be the best donors for the transplant.

Anti-TNF agents may not cause lymphoma

Anti-TNF agents provide effective treatment in pediatric cases of IBD. However, doctors hesitate to suggest the treatment due to the risk of developing lymphoma.

The results of a 2020 study showed that anti-TNF treatments do not increase the risk of lymphoma in children who are at low risk for this cancer in general.

Biologics may help reduce the need for surgery

According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, recent research indicates that biologics have had a positive effect on the number of surgeries associated with UC.

According to the findings, the percentage of people who needed to undergo a colectomy — the removal of part or all of the colon — after their first hospitalization dropped from 20% to 5.3%. Similarly, the number of people who needed this procedure within 1 year of hospitalization dropped from 30% to 11.9%.

Sphingolipid-based therapy is promising

Sphingolipids are chemicals in the body that play a role in moving immune cells to different areas. People with IBD have immune transit systems that are overactive and can cause inflammation. Researchers have been studying therapies for IBD that target sphingolipids and reduce overactive immune cell transit.

A couple of different clinical trials are underway to determine whether these types of treatments are effective. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the first sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P) receptor modulator, called ozanimod (Zeposia), for the treatment of adults with moderate-to-severe UC.

Researchers frequently recruit for upcoming clinical trials. Clinical trials are research studies that a person can participate in to help researchers learn about the efficacy and safety of treatments. A person can search for upcoming clinical trials on or ask their doctor if they know about any upcoming trials in the area.

A person should always talk with their doctor before signing up for a clinical trial to check whether they are likely to be a suitable candidate and whether the trial could benefit them.

Researchers continue to work on developing a better understanding of both Crohn’s disease and UC. Their work reveals new information about these diseases and the treatment options. Ongoing research and clinical trials may help researchers discover a way to cure IBD or fully control the symptoms to help improve a person’s quality of life.

People interested in joining a clinical trial should talk with their doctor to see whether they qualify to participate.