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The medical community continues to study Crohn's disease and research new treatment options. In time, it is hoped that more effective treatments with fewer side effects will become available. Many different drugs to see if they are effective treatments for Crohn's. Some of these drugs include budesonide, methotrexate, cyclosporine, and natalizumab.

An Introduction to Research on Crohn's Disease

Doctors and scientists all over the country are conducting Crohn's disease research (also known as clinical trials). Research studies are designed to answer important questions and to determine whether new approaches to treating Crohn's disease are safe and effective. This research has already led to many advances, and researchers continue to search for more effective methods for dealing with Crohn's disease.

Current Focus of Crohn's Disease Research

Researchers continue to look for more effective treatments for Crohn's disease. Examples of investigational treatments include:
  • Anti-TNF. Research has shown that cells affected by Crohn's disease contain a cytokine, a protein produced by the immune system, called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). TNF may be responsible for the inflammation of Crohn's disease. Anti-TNF is a substance that finds TNF in the bloodstream, binds to it, and removes it before it can reach the intestines and cause inflammation. In studies, anti-TNF seems particularly helpful in closing fistulas.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the drugs infliximab (Remicade®) and adalimumab (Humira®) for the treatment of moderate to severe Crohn's disease that does not respond to standard therapies (such as mesalamine substances, corticosteroids, or immunosuppressive agents). Infliximab is also approved for the treatment of open, draining fistulas. However, researchers will continue to study the long-term effects of these medications.

  • Interleukin 10. Interleukin 10 (IL-10) is a cytokine that suppresses inflammation. Researchers are now studying the effectiveness of using synthetic IL-10 to treat Crohn's disease.
  • Antibiotics. Antibiotics are now used to treat the bacterial infections that often accompany Crohn's disease, but some research suggests that they might also be useful as a primary treatment for active Crohn's disease.
  • Budesonide. Researchers recently identified a new corticosteroid called budesonide that appears to be as effective as other corticosteroids but causes fewer side effects.
  • Methotrexate and cyclosporine. These are immunosuppressive drugs that may be useful in treating Crohn's disease. One potential benefit of methotrexate and cyclosporine is that they appear to work faster than traditional immunosuppressive drugs.
  • Natalizumab. Natalizumab (Tysabri®) is a medication currently approved for treating relapsing multiple sclerosis. When it comes to treating Crohn's disease, natalizumab is an experimental drug that possibly reduces Crohn's symptoms and improves the quality of life. The drug decreases inflammation by binding to immune cells and preventing them from leaving the bloodstream and reaching the areas of inflammation.
  • Zinc. Free radicals -- molecules produced during fat metabolism, stress, and infection, among other things -- may contribute to the inflammation that occurs with Crohn's disease. Free radicals sometimes cause cell damage when they interact with other molecules in the body. The mineral zinc removes free radicals from the bloodstream. Studies are under way to determine if taking zinc supplements might help reduce inflammation.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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