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Inflammatory bowel disease: developing a new blood test to improve diagnosis and personalise treatment for children

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Around 300,000 people in the UK are living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – with up to one in five patients diagnosed in childhood.[1] This lifelong condition involves inflammation of the digestive system, leading to symptoms including pain, bleeding and diarrhoea. Professor Jack Satsangi of the University of Oxford is aiming to develop a simple new blood test that can improve the diagnosis of IBD and help doctors select the best treatment for each child. The goal is to help deliver precision medicine for children with IBD, improving long-term outcomes and quality of life for those living with this serious condition.

How are children’s lives affected now?

The two main types of IBD are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Both are long-term conditions that can cause debilitating symptoms – which can vary from person to person and range from mild to severe.

“A child with IBD may experience painful stomach cramps, recurrent diarrhoea, weight loss and extreme tiredness,” says Professor Satsangi. “These troublesome symptoms can disrupt their everyday activities and reduce quality of life.”

IBD is generally diagnosed using endoscopy, which involves passing a camera on a tube into a child’s intestines. This procedure is invasive and usually carried out in hospital under general anaesthetic – which can be disruptive and upsetting for children and their families.

“Sadly, there is no cure for IBD – but treatments are available that can help to control symptoms, including powerful anti-inflammatory drugs and surgery,” says Professor Satsangi. “But these can cause side effects – and unfortunately, there is no way for doctors to predict the severity of a child’s symptoms, making it difficult to choose the best starting treatment.”

How could this research help?

“We aim to develop a simple new blood test that can improve diagnosis and personalise treatment for children with IBD – improving outcomes, reducing invasive investigations and unnecessary treatment,” says Professor Satsangi.

The team has previously discovered specific changes in a child’s DNA that can tell very accurately if they have IBD. They now plan to use cutting-edge technology to create a single new blood test that can rapidly examine these and other genetic changes linked with the condition.

“We will determine how accurately this test can diagnose IBD in children and guide treatment decisions – such as whether an endoscopy is needed, which treatment to use and when to stop treatment,” says Professor Satsangi.

The team will also investigate how these genetic changes are passed through the generations, with a particular focus on how smoking may affect these changes – which could help inform future research into the causes of IBD and possible treatments.

Our test could easily be expanded to include other DNA changes as they are discovered, leading to further refinements that can help to improve its usefulness in the clinic.

Professor Satsangi


  1. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Inflammatory bowel disease, Quality standard [QS81]

Research table

Project details

Project Leader Professor Jack Satsangi, MB BCh DPhil FRCP FRSE
Location Translational Gastroenterology Unit, Nuffield Department of Medicine, John Radcliffe Hospital, University of Oxford
Project Team Professor Sarah Ennis, BSc PhD FHEA
Professor David C Wilson, MB BCh MD FRCP FRCPCH
Professor Holm H Uhlig, MD DPhil
Dr Alex Adams, MBBS PhD
Other Locations Faculty of Medicine, Southampton General Hospital, University of Southampton
Child Life and Health, University of Edinburgh
Grant Awarded
Grant Amount £200,000
Start Date
End Date
Duration 18 months
Grant Code (GN number) GN2880


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