About 700,000 people in the U.S. suffer from Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract characterized by severe abdominal pain, weight loss, fatigue and persistent diarrhea.

The condition, which can sometimes cause potentially deadly complications, has no known cure. Findings of a new study, however, show promise for those who suffer from the disease.

Researchers from the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine appear to have found one possible cause of the disease that could pave way for the development of treatments and eventually a cure for the condition.

The underlying cause of Crohn's disease is not known, but the condition is likely because of several factors, which include a malfunctioning immune system and genetics. Earlier studies also suggested that certain bacteria may be associated with the disease.

In the new study, published in the journal mBio, Mahmoud Ghannoum and colleagues from Case Western Reserve University reported that fungi may also have a role in the disease.

Ghannoum and colleagues analyzed the fecal samples of people with Crohn's disease, those of their family members who do not have the disease and strangers who live in the same area. The objective was to investigate the differences in the microbiomes of those with Crohn's and those around them.

The researchers found that those with Crohn's tend to carry higher amounts of the bacteria Serratia marcescens, E. coli and a fungus called Candida tropicalis compared with their relatives and those who live nearby, which suggests that the two bacteria and the fungus interact in the intestines.

In a test-tube experiment, the researchers found that these microorganisms work together to produce a biofilm that can lead to inflammation that causes symptoms of Crohn's.

"We identified fungal (Candida tropicalis) and bacterial (Serratia marcescens and Escherichia coli) species that are associated with [Crohn's disease] dysbiosis," Ghannoum and colleagues wrote in their study, which was published on Sept. 20.

"We also identified positive interkingdom correlations between C. tropicalis, E. coli, and S. marcescens in [Crohn's disease] patients and validated these correlations using in vitro biofilms."

The researchers likewise noted that the gut profile of families affected by the disease were very different from those who do not struggle with the condition. Ghannoum said it is possible that other factors that are potentially shared by family members such as environment and diet may contribute to Crohn's.

The researchers said that their findings provide insights into the role of fungi and bacteria in Crohn's disease and this can potentially lead to development of treatments.

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