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Find out about Chrohn’s

14 Aug

The history of Crohn’s

August 13, 2007

The history of Crohn’s

By the time Dr. Burrill Crohn officially described the disease that bears his name in 1932, inflammatory bowel disease — an umbrella term for Crohn’s disease and the related condition known as ulcerative colitis — had afflicted sufferers for centuries.

Alfred the Great, considered the first king of England, ascended the throne in 871 and defeated the occupying Danes more than once, demanding equal rights for English citizens of Danish territory. He built towns and schools and was an accomplished diplomat who put limits on blood feuds and upheld strict penalties for oath-breakers.

And, if the suspicions are true, he had Crohn’s. A contemporary biographer reported that he suffered a chronic illness that caused him discomfort and embarrassment and pain when he ate. Ninth century explanations for what Alfred had included the curses of witches or divine punishment for his philandering.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower had Crohn’s, and his physicians prescribed a bland diet. But sometimes Eisenhower couldn’t resist forbidden foods such as pig knuckles and sauerkraut. He had surgery for bowel obstruction in 1956, months before winning his second term in office.

During the second half of the 20th century, understanding and treatment of inflammatory bowel disease has advanced considerably:

Until the 1950s, doctors thought it was psychological and, accordingly, treatment focused on psychoanalysis.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that scientists started to consider the immune system as a source for the disease.

Before the 1970s, doctors dismissed the fact that it runs in families as mere coincidence.

For decades, Crohn’s and colitis research was stymied by the lack of an animal model. Scientists tried, and failed, to induce colitis in animals with vitamin deficiencies and bacterial toxins.

Then, in 1981, scientists identified an animal that naturally develops human-like colitis: the cotton-top tamarin, a monkey found in Colombia. The first mouse model was developed in the 1990s, allowing research to progress at a faster rate.

— Amber Dance

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