UEG press release

UEG Week: New research links Crohn’s disease to Black Death

Oktober 22, 2018

UEG Week: New research links Crohn’s disease to Black Death

(Vienna, October 22, 2018) European incidence of Crohn’s disease is likely to be a result of surviving the Black Death in the middle ages, according to new research presented today at the 26th UEG Week in Vienna. 

Researchers from Paris, France studied historical data on the intensity of plague outbreaks from Europe and the Mediterranean Basin between 800 and 1850AD. They found that there was statistical significance between outbreak intensities and Crohn’s disease-associated mutations in the general population – which help to explain modern-day prevalence of Crohn’s disease in Europe.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic relapsing condition that, together with ulcerative colitis, comprises the disease known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The researchers looked at the gene NOD2 which plays an important role in the body’s immune system but mutations of which are related to the development of Crohn’s disease. Mutations of NOD2 have been shown to aid the resistance of the organism that causes the plague and the results of the study show that the prevalence of these mutations associated with Crohn’s disease are correlated with the intensities of plague outbreaks.

Approximately 3 million Europeans are now affected by IBD, which costs European health systems up to €5.6 billion per year. The causes of IBD are not fully known, although research strongly suggests that both genetic and environmental factors play a significant role. IBD can lead to an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer and, whilst symptoms may develop at any age, the peak age of IBD onset is during adolescence or early adulthood.

The Black Death was responsible for the deaths of millions of Europeans and is thought to have killed between 30-40% of the European population between 1347 and 1353.

Professor Jean-Pierre Hugot, one of the leading researchers involved in the French study explains, “Considering the potential severity of Crohn’s disease when untreated, it is unlikely that it was a frequent disease before the 20th century. As healthcare systems have developed and care for Crohn’s disease patients has improved, more and more people are living with the disease. This research goes some way to explaining the genetic origins of Crohn’s and we hope it will enable us to better understand the disease, and how to treat it, in the future.”

Notes to Editors

For further information, or to arrange an interview with Professor Jean-Pierre Hugot, please contact Luke Paskins on +44 (0)1444 811099 or media@ueg.eu

About Professor Jean-Pierre Hugot

Professor Jean-Pierre Hugot is an IBD specialist and his research is focused on genetics and IBD. He is head of the Paediatric Digestive and Respiratory Diseases Department at the Robert Debré Hospital, Paris, France.

About UEG Week

UEG Week is the largest and most prestigious gastroenterology meeting in Europe and has developed into a global congress. It attracts over 14,000 participants each year, from more than 120 countries, and numbers are steadily rising. UEG Week provides a forum for basic and clinical scientists from across the globe to present their latest research in digestive and liver diseases, and also features a two-day postgraduate course that brings together top lecturers in their fields for a weekend of interactive learning.

About UEG

UEG, or United European Gastroenterology, is a professional non-profit organisation combining all the leading European medical specialist and national societies focusing on digestive health. Together, its member societies represent over 30,000 specialists, working across medicine, surgery, paediatrics, gastrointestinal oncology and endoscopy. This makes UEG the most comprehensive organisation of its kind in the world, and a unique platform for collaboration and the exchange of knowledge.

To advance the standards of gastroenterological care and knowledge across the world and to reduce the burden of digestive diseases, UEG offers numerous activities and initiatives, including:

  • UEG Education, the universal source of knowledge in gastroenterology, providing online and classroom courses, a huge online library and delivering the latest GI news, fostering debate and discussion
  • Activity Grants, promoting and funding educational projects in the field of digestive health to advance and harmonise the training and continuing education of professionals
  • UEG Journal, covering translational and clinical studies from all areas of gastroenterology
  • Public Affairs, promoting research, prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of digestive diseases, and helping develop an effective health policy for Europe
  • Quality of Care, European-based and English clinical practice guidelines, clinical standards, consensus, position papers and standard protocols in the field of digestive health, are available in the repository

Luke Paskins on +44 (0)1444 811099 or media@ueg.eu

Find out more about UEG’s work by visiting www.ueg.eu or contact:        

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  1. Dumay, A. et al (2018), Is Crohn’s Disease the price to pay today for having survived the Black Death? Presented at UEG Week Vienna 2018, October 22, 2018.
  2. Yamamoto, S & Ma, X (2009), Role of Nod2 in the development of Crohn’s disease. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2924159/  
  3. Burisch, J. et al (2013), The burden of inflammatory bowel disease in Europe. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1873994613000305
  4. United European Gastroenterology (2012), The Survey of Digestive Health in Europe. Available at: https://www.ueg.eu/research/white-book/

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