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Transforming irritable bowel management

Network co-led by Queen’s researcher Stephen Vanner awarded $12.5 million to study gastrointestinal disease

A national, large-scale research project looking at gastrointestinal disease has been awarded $12.5 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Stephen Vanner, clinician-scientist at Kingston General Hospital (KGH) and a professor at Queen’s University, will co-lead studies on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The IMAGINE (Inflammation, Microbiome, and Alimentation: Gastro-Intestinal and Neuropsychiatric Effects) Network , a new addition to  the CIHR’s Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research program,  will  study the relationships between diet, gut bacteria and IBS and IBD. It will also study the links between irritable bowel conditions and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, which often occur with these gastrointestinal diseases.

More than six million Canadians suffer from IBS and can occur at any age. IBD typically first presents in teenagers and young adults but then lasts life long as there is no known cure. Individual drug treatments for IBD can cost $25,000 a year.

“We want to transform the management of these diseases,” says Dr. Vanner, Director of the Gastrointestinal Research Unit at KGH. “The premise is that food and gut bacteria interact to cause symptoms of IBS and IBD. Our goal is to understand these interactions and find treatments by altering one or both of these factors, and improve patients’ lives.”

Composed of 88 researchers at 17 centres, the network will assemble 6,000 patients and 2,000 healthy subjects across Canada, making it the largest-ever study group for gastrointestinal disease in Canada. The aim is to develop new treatments, from dietary changes and probiotics to fecal transplants,   antibiotics and other therapies that improve both physical and mental health of IBD and IBS sufferers.

“One of the challenges in this research area is that studies tend to be limited to fewer than 50 patients, making it very difficult to establish links or find causes,” says Dr. Vanner, who is the co-lead with Dr. Premek Bercik at McMaster University. “This project will give us the large population we need to reach reliable conclusions.”

Dr. Vanner and Dr. Bercik will also study the effects a diet low in some types of carbohydrates could have on IBS.

The lead researchers in the IMAGINE Network are Dr. Paul Moayyedi of McMaster University and Dr. Bertus Eksteen of University of Calgary.

Visit the CIHR website for more information.

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