Scientists from UCLA, Health Sciences have recently come across a breakthrough – an experimental therapy that could suppress the progress of ulcerative colitis (UC), a disease causing inflammation within the lower digestive tract that could ultimately lead to colon cancer. Published online in the journal Gastroenterology, the developed treatment uses a chemical inhibitor that blocks an RNA molecule (microRNA-214) associated with the transmission of genetic information.

Colorectal/Colon Cancer – The Statistics

Considering men and women separately, colon cancer is the third-leading cause of deaths in the US. On an average, it is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths. The American Cancer Society approximates that 93,090 fresh cases of colon cancer, and 39,610 new cases of rectal cancer will be prevalent in the US by 2015. Moreover, about 49,700 individuals are estimated to lose their lives to this disease this year.

Ulcerative Colitis Treatment

Out of all the individuals who complain about gastrointestinal pain, 30 percent are generally diagnosed with “indeterminate inflammatory bowel disease” by the gastroenterologist. Even if the individual is positive for all available biomarkers and has had a colonoscopy, most clinicians are still incapable of ruling out whether the patient has ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

It has been seen that the patients of UC who typically have elevated levels of microRNA-214 are more susceptible to developing colon cancer. The fact that patients with colitis also develop the disease is still unclear.

The Experimental Discovery

The two year study was conducted by Dr Dimitrios Iliopoulos, a member of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, along with his colleague Dr Christos Polytarchou, UCLA Assistant Professor of Digestive Disease.

The researchers examined samples of colon tissue from 401 patients from the US and Europe. Samples were taken from patients suffering from UC, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, sporadic colorectal cancer and colitis-associated colon cancer. These specimens were then compared with samples of healthy individuals.

The team developed a systematic approach that could accelerate the process of drug delivery. They utilized sophisticated computer programming and high-tech robotics for integrating clinical and molecular information. This helped identify the genes that were most vital to create novel drugs, leading to the discovery of a novel microRNA-214 chemical inhibitor.

“We evaluated this new chemical inhibitor in mice suffering from ulcerative colitis and colon tumors. In both cases it was highly effective to suppress these diseases”, said Dr Iliopoulos.

Future Prospects

The researchers hope that this new discovery would help physicians diagnose the disease correctly and administer proper and effective treatment.

Dr Iliopoulos will continue to test the microRNA-214 chemical inhibitor and will file for an ‘investigational new drug application’ with the FDA. He hopes to soon begin phase I clinical trials with patients suffering from UC.