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Understanding and curing early forms of Crohn’s disease

In the past two decades, the incidence of Crohn’s disease has increased in adults, children and teenagers. Cases of the chronic inflammatory bowel disease have even been diagnosed in patients younger than six years old—an occurrence that used to be much rarer. What causes these early forms? Is there a way to alleviate the symptoms of this incurable condition that can cause growth problems in children? Prévost Jantchou, clinical researcher in pediatric gastroenterology at the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre affiliated with Université de Montréal, is working to answer those very questions.

First, Dr. Jantchou delved into the histories of tens of thousands of Québec patients born in the 1970s, many of whom have Crohn’s disease. His hypothesis is that exposure to certain perinatal risk factors such as prematurity or newborn infection is associated with a higher rate of occurrence. Antibiotic use and contact with pets may also play a role, and breastfeeding may be a protective factor. This retrospective analysis could help determine the critical times when Crohn’s disease is most likely to arise.

Because Crohn’s disease is more common in the hemispheres than at the equator, a lack of vitamin D, which is naturally synthetized under the action of the sun’s rays, may be to blame. In the second phase of the study, Prévost Jantchou and his team will follow a cohort of more than 316 Canadian children who will be administered very high doses of vitamin D for a year. Ultimately, this inexpensive and minimally invasive intervention could potentially reduce recurrences in patients and improve their quality of life. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, which slowed the participant recruitment process, the results are not expected before 2025.