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News Release

CountryDateRelease Date

United States

June 28 1999


NIH targets bacterial cause of Crohn's disease

Historic meeting of researchers documented

In light of rapidly mounting scientific evidence and growing concern, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has made a swift and astounding move to develop and release an entirely new Crohn's Research Agenda -- a research agenda which targets an infectious cause for Crohn's disease.

The focus of the new research agenda recommendations reflect a dramatic shift away from the current path of research which has heretofore sought, unsuccessfully, to implicate mysterious "immune system dysfunctions or defects" as the cause of Crohn's disease. Instead, the NIH will now be targeting research to determine whether the mycobacterium known as Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP), and/or other bacterial infections cause Crohn's disease.

Just as stomach ulcers were recently proven to be caused by a bacterial infection, and not stress, it appears now that Crohn's disease may also be proven to be caused by a bacterial infection rather than being the result of an incurable and baffling "autoimmune" disease.

A controversial organism

The prominent infectious organism in question, MAP, has been the object of study by a small, but growing, number of researchers in the United States, UK, and Australia. Employing recently developed scientific techniques, a number of these researchers have detected this infectious organism in the tissues of significant numbers of Crohn's sufferers. Moreover, using antibiotic treatment tailored to fight MAP infection, these doctors have seen a large percentage of their Crohn's patients achieve remission with anti-MAP treatment.

Yet controversy exists about MAP as a possible cause of Crohn's disease. Karen Meyer, Executive Director, of the Crohn's patient advocacy organization, PARA, Inc., notes, "As when Dr. Barry Marshall first proposed that ulcers were caused by infection with the bacterium H. Pylori, the general medical community has been skeptical of the theory that MAP or other infectious organism(s) causes Crohn's disease. Nevertheless, it appears generally accepted in the scientific community that there is some 'association' between MAP and Crohn's disease. For the sake of those suffering, it is critical that the nature of this 'association' be conclusively determined with utmost urgency."

NAIAD's response

To this end, the NIH very effectively responded to the mounting scientific evidence, and the public health concerns raised by PARA, Inc., when the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the NIH held an historic workshop, gathering the most highly respected researchers from within the NIH and from throughout the US and the world to make presentations and to discuss these grave concerns.

Dr. Dennis Lang, Program Director for NIAID, who organized this unprecedented workshop, reported that the intent of the conference was " review the current state of knowledge relevant to a microbial etiology of Crohn's disease, a serious, debilitating, inflammatory bowel disease. In particular, we set out to review evidence for and against the hypothesis that the bacterium, Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP) is the cause of CD and to define needed research that could shed light on the etiology and pathogenesis of this chronic disease."

The comprehensive research agenda that was borne out of the NIAID/NIH workshop is entitled "Crohn's Disease:- Is There a Microbial Etiology? Recommendations for a Research Agenda," and specifically targets MAP, and/or other infectious organism(s) as causing Crohn's disease. "The fact that NIH recognizes this important research issue clearly places the search for an infectious cause for Crohn's disease into the mainstream research arena. We certainly extend our highest commendation and our deepest appreciation to Dr. Dennis Lang, and the NIAID/NIH, for all of the hard work and diligence in responding to this critical need for research and for preparing this comprehensive research agenda," says Cheryl Miller, Assistant Executive Director for PARA, Inc.

MAP researchers pleased with NIH research agenda

"The NIH/NIAID report on the Crohn's Disease Workshop constitutes scientifically sound research recommendations that should not be taken lightly," said highly respected MAP researcher Dr. Rod Chiodini, "The assembled group of experts correctly identified the key areas of needed research."

Professor John Hermon-Taylor, one of the pioneers in treating Crohn's disease with anti-MAP drugs, declared, "I think the NIH report is a useful step forward, but given that about 25,000 people in the USA alone are likely to come down with MAP infection in 1999, we need to proceed without delay to turn it into action."

Commented prominent MAP researcher and President of the IAP (International Association for Paratuberculosis), Dr. Michael Collins, "I am very satisfied that the NIAID/NIH produced a comprehensive and accurate report. I look forward to increased funding for research on MAP from NIH."

Dr. Patrick Brennan, who chaired the workshop, was very positive and summed up the NIAID/NIH efforts stating, "The highly satisfactory outcome of the NIH Workshop 'Crohn's Disease:- Is there a Microbial Etiology? Recommendations for a Research Agenda' demonstrates the power of patient advocacy and excellent government response. The scientific meeting itself was unique in the assemblage of people afflicted with Crohn's disease, their loved ones, the best of the scientific community conducting research on the various aspects of Crohn's disease and the affiliated animal disease, and the best minds at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH. All shared their personal and scientific experiences and the outcome was excellent, resulting in a document that has as its underpinning the human affliction and stresses the need to define the potential infectious etiology, characterize the host immune and inflammatory responses and conduct crucial epidemiological and familial genetic research. On behalf of the scientific research community, I would like to thank PARA for raising our consciousness of Crohn's disease and its consequences, and the NIAID, notably Dr. Dennis Lang, for the production of a historic document that will set the research agenda into this disease for years to come."

Crohn's disease -- the human cost

Crohn's disease is a serious, debilitating, life-threatening condition, an inflammatory bowel disease that can be termed "a disease of the young" because it usually strikes children, teens, and young adults, with the average age of onset between 15 and 25. Conservative estimates are that Crohn's disease affects at least 500,000 people in the U.S. alone. Not only is it a costly disease in terms of human suffering, but it is a disease that is costly in terms of medical care. Currently, the annual cost for treatment of Crohn's disease in the U.S. approximates $4.3 billion, a figure that is based on an average of $8,560 per patient per year.


The complete NIAID report "Crohn's Disease:- Is There a Microbial Etiology? Recommendations for a Research Agenda" may be found here.External link indicator

For further information contact

ContactKaren Meyer
Executive Director, Paratuberculosis Awareness and Research Association, Inc.

Paratuberculosis Awareness and Research Association, Inc.

is a non-profit organization of Crohn's disease patients, their families and friends who are dedicated to the following goals:
  1. To raise awareness of the zoonotic (disease-causing) potential of the bacterium, MAP, in the national community of sufferers of Crohn's disease, in medical, veterinary and food science research communities, in governmental agencies and in the public in general
  2. To urge governmental agencies to directly address control and eventual eradication of MAP from the human environment, particularly from foods of animal origin
  3. To urge governmental and medical research agencies to make funding available for research which will determine the role played by MAP in causing Crohn's disease

Paratuberculosis Awareness and Research Association, Inc.
Box 16219
Temple Terrace, FL 33687-6219

Source:   Contact PARA:
Paratuberculosis Awareness & Research Association