The New Face of CCFA-Sponsored Research
Our gut microbiota have a key role in IBD, but only a limited number of the enormously complex bacteria, viruses, and fungi that make up this community have been identified, and their functions are largely unknown. Four years ago, technical advances of the genomic age opened up new possibilities for studying intestinal microbial agents. Now, the CCFA Gut Microbiome Initiative is helping to lay the foundation for exploring the microbiome and mining them for better ways to diagnose, prevent or treat Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
The first phase of the Gut Microbiome Initiative, started in 2008, was aimed at developing new techniques to study the gut microbiomes of healthy twins and their mothers. Since then, researchers have been able to use these techniques to delve deeper into analyzing the intestinal communities of patients with IBD as well as their non-affected family members. This will help identify microbes that are specific to IBD, which will then be targeted in future studies. In addition, the Initiative is developing bioinformatic techniques to analyze these huge data sets so that all IBD investigators can effectively utilize the results, as well as developing a gene chip that can be used by IBD investigators to determine if a functional gene is present in a clinical or experimental sample.
Now in its fourth stage, the Initiative is bringing together scientists through a multi-disciplinary, collaborative and multi-institutional investment focused on harnessing the microbiome to benefit the IBD patient community.
CCFA's new consortium is broad-based and innovative in its approach to finding new treatments for IBD. For example, when consortium participant Dr. Nita Salzman, M.D., Ph.D. of the Medical College of Wisconsin, began studying Paneth cells more than 15 years ago, very little was understood about their function. However, Paneth cells have now emerged as relevant to Crohn's disease.
"The fact that people continue to study things that were not apparently directly relevant is crucial," Dr. Salzman says. "If we only study what appears to be relevant, we would not make the discoveries that seem to come out of 'left field.'"
Dr. Salzman envisions a future in which food products that enhance growth of beneficial bacteria and eliminate growth of harmful bacteria could improve the quality of life and reduce the symptoms of IBD patients.
Another member of CCFA's consortium is Dr. Herbert "Skip" Virgin of Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Virgin's work explores how viruses may elicit Crohn's disease or exacerbate the disease in patients with specific genetic risk.
"We have come upon something that might matter," he says. "I know people with these diseases, even within my own family. CCFA is allowing us to explore a risky – yet high yield – hypothesis that, if proven, could change the way we diagnose, prevent, and treat Crohn's disease.”
As the CCFA Microbiome Consortium moves ahead, we look forward to the continued collaboration of these dedicated scientists, as the whole will truly exceed the sum of its many impressive parts.
For further information, call CCFA at our IBD Help Center: 888.MY.GUT.PAIN (888.694.8872).
The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America provides information for educational purposes only. We encourage you to review this educational material with your health care professional. The Foundation does not provide medical or other health care opinions or services. The inclusion of another organization's resources or referral to another organization does not represent an endorsement of a particular individual, group, company or product.
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Published: May 1, 2012