Kaija-Leena Kolho

Studying the gastrointestinal microbiome of small children reveals the causes of inflammatory bowel diseases

A research group led by Kaija-Leena Kolho attempts to discover the causes of rapidly increasing cases of inflammatory bowel diseases and biomarkers that can be used to predict the onset and development of the diseases.

Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are the most important subject of research in pediatric gastroenterology. Nearly one percent of the current population of Finland has been diagnosed with IBD. The reasons behind the rapid increase in the occurrence of the disease are unknown.

Approximately one out of three patients are diagnosed with a severe form of the disease that requires expensive medications that affect the body’s immune system.

According to professor Kolho’s research, the use of antibiotics in early childhood increases the risk of pediatric Crohn’s disease. The data of Kela’s drug purchase register were used in the study.

Currently, the group is studying the long-term effects of antibiotics on children’s gastrointestinal microbiome, or normal flora.

HELMi research on the development of microbiome

In cooperation with docent Anne Salonen, PhD Katri Korpela and professor Willem de Vos, Kaija-Leena Kolho is studying the development of the microbiome of small children in the HELMi research project (Healthy Early Life Microbiota). The project was initiated in 2016.

The effect of the intestinal microbiome and the factors that shape it on the child’s health and well-being are studied in the project. The aim is to determine the variability in a healthy microbiome and to identify the changes that might indicate a risk of the onset of the disease.

More than 1,000 families with a pregnant mother have been recruited into the study. 96% of these families participated in the study when their child reached the age of three months, and 92% were still included in the study when their child reached the age of one year.

The first phase of the HELMi research project ends in March 2020. The research protocol has been published: BMJ Open Cohort profile: Finnish Health and Early Life Microbiota (HELMi) longitudinal birth cohort. 2019 Jun 27;9(6):e028500.

“We also study other pediatric gastrointestinal disorders with a particular attention on long-term coping,” says Kaija-Leena Kolho.

This clinical, translational research is carried out in cooperation with several research units both in Finland and internationally. Members of the research group have written several dissertations and there are dissertations in progress, while some students are completing their advanced studies.

Contact information

Kaija-Leena Kolho
+358 (0)50 566 1442