Leading researchers from Hudson Institute, Monash Health and Monash Children’s Hospital are combining their expertise to find new treatments to help young people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). In Australia, one in 200 people, including up to 10,000 children, suffer from IBD.
It’s an incurable lifelong disease that causes inflammation in the colon and rectum. Symptoms can be so severe that some people with the disease need to be hospitalised, or undergo surgery.
Dr Sam Forster is a specialist in the microbiome, world-renowned for his research into gut bacteria. His study into new species of gut bacteria has been described as ‘game-changing’ for research worldwide.
Dr Forster is collaborating with Dr Jaclyn Pearson and Dr Edward Giles to combine expertise in clinical disease, genomics and immunology. Together, they are working to identify common protective and inflammation-causing gut bacteria in children diagnosed with IBD, and to identify treatments that target those bacteria.
The physical and emotional toll of IBD
There is a real need for new treatments for children with IBD. Currently, the disease is managed using drugs that suppress the immune system, but these become less effective over time and can have significant side effects, leaving patients with an increased risk of colorectal cancer and lymphoma.
The disease not only impacts physical health, but also social and emotional wellbeing. Having IBD can cause severe embarrassment and disruption to a young patient’s education, employment and relationships. Isolation and stress experienced can also result in anxiety and depression.
Focus on friendly bacteria
The research program will focus on the role of gut bacteria in IBD. Already, the team have grown more than 3000 bacteria and identified around 20 of these bacteria that associate with bowel damage to proceed with more in-depth research.
“If we can understand how these key bacteria initiate the disease symptoms, this research has immense potential to change the paradigm of IBD treatment,” said Dr Pearson.
The team hope their work will lead to more targeted treatments including improved faecal transplants, probiotics or immunomodulators.
“Ultimately, through this work we will find new treatments that will reduce suffering, minimise hospital visits and reduce the need for surgery, optimising growth and psychosocial outcomes for young people,” said Dr Giles.