Foetal digestive disorder
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Foetal digestive disorder

Scientists have uncovered a mechanism which ensures the proper development of foetal gut.

health and fitness Updated: Dec 29, 2003 22:11 IST

Researchers have uncovered a mechanism which ensures the proper development of the foetal gut, which in turn might lead to new treatments for a common digestive disorder in newborns called Hirschsprung's Disease.

It is a condition which currently requires surgery to enable food to pass through the bowel and the colon.

The Medical Research Council has identified two crucial molecules which appear to control the movement of key cells from the brain to the gut before birth.

The migration of these cells is essential for the formation of a branch of the nervous system which works independently of the brain and controls the wave-like contractions of the gut.

Without this movement called peristalsis, it is impossible to move food through the digestive system properly.

Hirschprung's Disease, which affects approximately one in 4,500 children, is caused by the failure of these cells to populate the entire length of the gut.

Areas where the cells are lacking cannot expand in the normal way, blocking the progress of food through the digestive system.

As a result, the contents of the bowel accumulate in the upper colon, causing swelling, abdominal pain and severe constipation.

The MRC researchers, led by Professor Vassilis Pachnis at the National Institute for Medical Research, focused on some of the key molecules that are individually important for development of the gut's nervous system.

They found that they work together to act as master regulators to allow normal colonisation of the gut by the nerve cells, known technically as enteric neurons, says a BBC report.

The researchers also found that the balance of both these key molecules was critical to correct development and function of the gut.

Professor Pachnis said his work did not offer an immediate alternative to surgery.

But he stressed an alternative was desirable as, even after surgery, Hirschsprung's patients continued to have associated problems throughout life.

First Published: Dec 29, 2003 22:11 IST