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Estimating risks of common complex diseases across genetic and environmental factors: the example of Crohn disease
  1. C M Lewis1,2,
  2. S C L Whitwell3,
  3. A Forbes4,
  4. J Sanderson5,
  5. C G Mathew1,
  6. T M Marteau3
  1. 1
    Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics, Division of Genetics and Molecular Medicine, King’s College London School of Medicine, Guy’s Campus, London, UK
  2. 2
    Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Research Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, London, UK
  3. 3
    Psychology and Genetics Research Unit, King’s College London School of Medicine, Guy’s Campus, London, UK
  4. 4
    Department of Gastroenterology, Institute for Digestive Diseases, University College London Hospitals Trust, London, UK
  5. 5
    Department of Gastroenterology, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  1. Professor Cathryn M Lewis, Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics, King’s College London School of Medicine, 8th Floor, Guy’s Tower, Guy’s Hospital, London SE1 9RT, UK; cathryn.lewis{at}


Background: Progress has been made in identifying mutations that confer susceptibility to complex diseases, with the prospect that these genetic risks might be used in determining individual disease risk.

Aim: To use Crohn disease (CD) as a model of a common complex disorder, and to develop methods to estimate disease risks using both genetic and environmental risk factors.

Methods: The calculations used three independent risk factors: CARD15 genotype (conferring a gene dosage effect on risk), smoking (twofold increased risk for smokers), and residual familial risk (estimating the effect of unidentified genes, after accounting for the contribution of CARD15). Risks were estimated for high-risk people who are siblings, parents and offspring of a patient with CD.

Results: The CD risk to the sibling of a patient with CD who smokes and carries two CARD15 mutations is approximately 35%, which represents a substantial increase on the population risk of 0.1%. In contrast, the risk to a non-smoking sibling of a patient with CD who carries no CARD15 mutations is 2%. Risks to parents and offspring were lower.

Conclusions: High absolute risks of CD disease can be obtained by incorporating information on smoking, family history and CARD15 mutations. Behaviour modification through smoking cessation may reduce CD risk in these people.

  • Crohn disease
  • genetics
  • CARD15
  • risk estimation
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  • Funding: This research was supported by the Wellcome Trust (076024 to CML; 072029 to CGM) and the Medical Research Council (G0500274 to TMM for Risk communication in preventative medicine: optimising the impact of DNA risk information). Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust in conjunction with KCL, and University College Hospital in conjunction with UCL, receive funding support from the UK National Institute for Health Research.

  • Competing interests: None declared.

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