Changing the bacterial population of the gut could strengthen its defence against inflammation in a genetically-predisposed subset of the population.
Investigations have shown that one person in 20 has a defect in a gene involved in bacterial recognition at the bowel wall.
The CARD15 gene is needed to recognise foreign bacteria crossing the bowel wall, John Burn, professor of clinical genetics at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, told the conference.
'CARD15 is one of a number of important genes in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It is an essential component of bowel defence,' he said.
When there is a defect in the bacterial wall recognition system, you have to go to back-up two, the inflammatory system.
Five per cent of people with the CARD15 mutation contract severe IBD, Professor Burn said.
'Having found this, we are going to see how we can use the knowledge to improve treatment. One of the interesting areas is the use of probiotics that now starts to make a bit more sense,' he said.
'We can't change the genetics but maybe we can change the bacterial population making it less likely to be recognised by the cell wall.'