Crohn’s disease donation helps fund vital research for children suffering with debilitating disease

A £2,000 donation from the Barker-Mill Foundation (BMF) is set to be used towards research into paediatric Crohn’s disease, aimed at enabling doctors in Southampton to better understand what triggers the disease.

The research, being funded by Action Medical Research and led by Dr James Ashton at Southampton Children’s Hospital and the University of Southampton, hopes to provide a basis for developing new and improved treatments that will improve the quality of life for children affected by the illness.

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which affects around 115,000 people in the UK. It is a life-long condition caused by the immune system attacking cells in the lining of the gut. Estimates suggest that up to a quarter of cases are diagnosed in children aged 16 and under and for these children, Crohn’s disease has a major impact on their quality of life.

The exact cause of Crohn’s disease has not been established; the three year research training fellowship supported by the BMF is being led by Dr James Ashton, a paediatric doctor at Southampton Children’s Hospital.

Dr Ashton will work under the supervision of Professor Sarah Ennis, an expert in human genetics and genomics in medicine, and Professor Mark Beattie, a consultant paediatric gastroenterologist at University Hospital Southampton.

Dr James Ashton, said: “Children with Chron’s disease tend to have more sever symptoms than adults. The condition can have a significant impact on children’s lives – for example, their growth, schooling and psychological well being can all be affected.

“A lack of understanding of what causes Chron’s disease is hindering efforts to develop better treatments and use the treatments we have effectively,” says Dr Ashton. “More research is urgently needed.”

One hundred children will be recruited to take part in the study; 50 of whom will have been newly diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and have not yet received any treatment; and 50 further children with established Crohn’s disease. The team will study blood and stool samples, and biopsies of intestinal tissue collected during diagnosis. Using three different gene sequencing techniques, the analysis will look at the interaction between the three key factors: the patient’s genes, their immune system and the intestinal microbiome (bacteria in the gut).

The researchers will then follow these patients as they begin treatment, and investigate how the interactions between the three key factors change during periods when the patient is well, and during periods when their disease relapses. The team hopes that understanding the disease process and the effects of current treatment strategies on intestinal bacteria and gene activity will provide the basis for developing new and improved treatments.

In addition, the study may identify specific markers which predict the severity of the disease. This could help doctors to select the best treatment for each patient at diagnosis and improve the quality of life for children with Crohn’s disease.

Tim Jobling, BMF Trustee, said: “Surprisingly, child health research is underfunded in the UK. There is relatively little government or pharmaceutical funding for medical research into conditions that affect children and very few UK charities specifically focused in this area. In light of this we wanted to contribute towards Action Medical Research’s investigation into Chron’s disease in the hope of finding a cure for children in the near future.”

Director of Fundraising at Action Medical Research Jenny Edwards said: “We greatly appreciate this generous donation which will support research into Crohn’s disease in children. Our research training fellowship scheme, now in its 45th year, enables us to support talented young doctors like James Ashton as they develop their specialist skills, and we’re delighted that the Barker-Mill Foundation has chosen to help us support his work to help children.”

Click here to watch a video of Dr Aston talking about the research.

For further information about Action Medical Research, visit