Gastrointestinal disease

This theme aims to transform our understanding, management and treatment of major intestinal and liver diseases, including:

  • Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Often diagnosed in teenage years or early adulthood, these are chronic (long-lasting) inflammatory conditions that affect an estimated 1 in 200 people in the UK.
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. These diseases are related to obesity and one third of people in the UK now have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Some of these will go onto develop non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, which can lead to terminal liver disease and liver cirrhosis.
  • The rare chronic liver diseases primary biliary cirrhosis and primary sclerosing cholangitis. These have no effective medical therapy and often require liver transplantation.
  • Acute alcoholic hepatitis. This condition develops in a small number of people drinking alcohol, but is particularly deadly. No effective therapy exists, and up to 40% may die from liver failure within six months of diagnosis.

Research over the last decade has identified genes that put individuals at risk for developing any of these diseases. But we need to research more on other factors (such as environment or diet) that could trigger disease in genetically susceptible individuals.

In addition, multiple factors may play a part in causing the same disease. One patient may have the same disease as another, but with a different cause (or trigger).

How the disease develops (or progresses) may also differ from patient to patient. We will develop biomarkers (molecules in the body that can act as a sign of disease) to help us predict how disease will progress and how patients will respond to treatment, so we can tailor therapies to individual patients. This is known as precision medicine.