LIVERPOOL, UK -- 15 September 2005: Scientists at the University ofLiverpool believe gaps in the intestinal barrier could be a cause ofinflammatory diseases of the gut such as Crohn's Disease.
Their research, led by Professor Alastair Watson in the University'sFaculty of Medicine, could have important implications for thetreatment of patients with diseases like Crohn's -- an inflammatorybowel disorder that causes severe ulceration in the intestine, leadingto pain, bleeding and diarrhoea.
Professor Watson's research has concentrated on the renewal ofepithelial cells in the lining of the bowel and the 'gaps' in thelining that the process leaves behind.
The human bowel is lined with millions of projections calledvilli which increase the surface area of the intestine to allow for theefficient absorption of nutrients. The villi are covered in epithelialcells which are constantly renewed -- around a thousand billion cellsare shed from the top of the villi every day.
Professor Watson and his team found that this renewal processleaves 'gaps' in the lining of the bowel which, in healthy tissue, areimmediately filled with a glue-like substance that plugs the gaps. Theresearch team, discovering these gaps for the first time, found thataround 3% of the bowel's surface area is covered in this substance. Itwas previously assumed that the lining of the intestine was acontinuous sheet of cells.
Professor Watson said: "We suspect that patients withinflammatory disease may not have the same ability to plug the gapsleft by the cell renewal process -- meaning that bacteria can seepthrough the lining of the intestine. Understanding this cell sheddingprocess may lead to new treatments for inflammatory bowel disease."
He added: "Our research may also explain the development ofcolon cancer which we believe may be down to a failure in the renewalprocess of epithelial cells. If they don't renew but amass on the wallof the gut, they may develop into a cancer -- it's an area we'll beconcentrating on in the next stage of our study."
The research, published in Gastroenterology, was carried out in collaboration with the University of Cincinnati.
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