As doctors become more familiar with using biomarkers to monitor Crohn’s disease, clinical laboratories may play a greater role in that process
New evidence-based guidelines from the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) that call for using specific biomarkers to help manage Crohn’s disease (CD) may decrease the number of invasive procedures patients must undergo and increase the role clinical laboratories play in monitoring the disease.
The new AGA guidelines “recommend using the C-reactive protein (CRP) biomarker in blood and the fecal calprotectin (FCP) biomarker in stool to measure inflammation levels and assess whether Crohn’s disease is in remission or active,” Medical News Today reported.
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation in the digestive tract, primarily in the small and large intestine. The cause of the disease is unknown, but genetics may play a role.
Typically, CD patients must undergo repeated colonoscopies to monitor the disease’s progression or remission. This has long been standard practice. Now, however, “AGA recommends the use of biomarkers in addition to colonoscopy and imaging studies,” according to an AGA news release. This hints at a greater role for clinical laboratories in helping physicians manage patients with Crohn’s Disease.
“Patients’ symptoms do not always match endoscopic findings, so biomarkers are a useful tool to understand and monitor the status of inflammation and guide decision making in patients with Crohn’s disease,” said gastroenterologist Siddharth Singh, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at UC San Diego Health and a co-author of the new AGA guidelines.
The AGA’s new guidelines demonstrate how medical science is generating new insights about how multiple biomarkers can be associated for diagnosis/management of a disease in ways that change the standard of care, particularly if it can reduce invasive procedures for the patient by the use of less invasive methods (such as a venous blood draw instead of a colonoscopy).
The AGA published its new guidelines in the journal Gastroenterology titled, “AGA Clinical Practice Guideline on the Role of Biomarkers for the Management of Crohn’s Disease.”
“Based on this guideline, biomarkers are no longer considered experimental and should be an integral part of inflammatory bowel disease care,” Ashwin Ananthakrishnan MD (above), a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-author of the guidelines, told Medical News Today. Under the new AGA guidelines, clinical laboratories will play a greater role in helping patients monitor their disease. (Photo copyright: Massachusetts General Hospital.)
Patient’s Needs Determine Biomarker vs Endoscopy Monitoring
AGA’s new guidelines could give patients a more comfortable, cost-effective, and possibly more efficient treatment plan to manage their Crohn’s disease. That’s even true if a patient’s Crohn’s disease is in remission.
With these new guidelines, Crohn’s disease patients in remission would only need their biomarkers to be checked every six to 12 months. Patients with active symptoms would need their biomarkers checked roughly every two to four months.
Biomarker testing can be seen as a useful addition to Crohn’s disease care rather than a full replacement of other forms of care. For example, the new AGA guidelines do not fully omit imaging studies and colonoscopies from treatment. Rather, they are recommended in treatment plans based on the patient’s needs.
In their Gastroenterology paper, the AGA authors wrote, “A biomarker-based monitoring strategy involves routine assessment of symptoms and noninvasive biomarkers of inflammation in patients with CD in symptomatic remission to inform ongoing management. In this situation, normalization of biomarkers is an adequate treatment target—asymptomatic patients with normal biomarkers would continue current management without endoscopy, whereas those with elevated biomarkers would undergo endoscopy.”
Fecal Matter Biomarkers
In speaking with Medical News Today on the benefits of using fecal biomarkers to assess a patient’s disease maintenance, gastroenterologist Jesse Stondell, MD, an Associate Clinical Professor at UC Davis Health, said, “If we start a patient on therapy, they’re not responding appropriately, they’re still having a lot of symptoms, we can check that fecal calprotectin test and get a very quick sense of if things are working or not.
“If the calprotectin is normal, it could be reassuring that there may be other reasons for their symptoms, and that the medicine’s working. But if they have symptoms, and a calprotectin is elevated, that’s a signal that we have to worry the medicine is not working. And that we need to change therapy in that patient,” he added.
“This is a win for Crohn’s disease patients,” Ashwin Ananthakrishnan, MD, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-author of the AGA’s new guidelines, told Medical News Today. “Biomarkers are usually easier to obtain, less invasive, more cost-effective than frequent colonoscopies, and can be assessed more frequently for tighter disease control and better long-term outcomes in Crohn’s disease.”
Clinical laboratories should expect these guidelines to increase demand for the processing of blood or fecal matter biomarker testing. As Crohn’s disease monitoring becomes more dependent on biomarker testing, clinical labs will play a critical role in that process.