Genome-wide association studies in Crohn's disease: Past, present and future.

12 Feb 2018

Over the course of the past decade, genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have revolutionised our understanding of complex disease genetics. One of the diseases that has benefitted most from this technology has been Crohn's disease (CD), with the identification of autophagy, the IL-17/IL-23 axis and innate lymphoid cells as key players in CD pathogenesis. Our increasing understanding of the genetic architecture of CD has also highlighted how a failure to suppress aberrant immune responses may contribute to disease development - a realisation that is now being incorporated into the design of new treatments. However, despite these successes, a significant proportion of disease heritability remains unexplained. Similarly, most of the causal variants at associated loci have not yet been identified, and even fewer have been functionally characterised. Because of the inarguable rise in the incidence of CD in regions of the world that previously had low disease rates, GWAS studies will soon have to shift from a largely Caucasian focus to include populations from other ethnic backgrounds. Future studies should also move beyond conventional studies of disease susceptibility into phenotypically driven 'within-cases' analyses in order to explore the role of genetics in other important aspects of disease biology. These studies are likely to include assessments of prognosis and/or response to treatments and may be critical if personalised medicine is ever to become a reality.