Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, is an umbrella term used to describe conditions that result in chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Patients can experience debilitating pain, fatigue and unintentional weight loss – symptoms which can make a significant impact on quality of life.
The cause of IBD is currently unknown and there is no cure. While our knowledge of IBD has just begun to scratch the surface, thanks to cutting edge research we are moving towards understanding what the causes of IBD may be, and what may trigger the development of the disease.
With a global reputation for our work in IBD – in both patient care and research – Sinai Health is home to innovative researchers whose aim is to get a better grasp on both causes and treatments for this complex condition. Here are three researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital who are working to advance our understanding of IBD, and to find new ways for managing symptoms.
Dr. Ken Croitoru primarily investigates the fundamental mechanisms of intestinal inflammation. He is the project leader of the GEM Project, an international research study attempting to determine possible causes for Crohn’s disease by following healthy individuals who are at a higher risk for developing the disease over time. The long-term study is coordinated out of the IBD Research Group and Zane Cohen Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital, and explores the genetic, environmental and microbial factors that may lead to Cohn’s disease.
“Genetics and family history are important risk factors but alone they’re not enough to explain the incidence of IBD,” says Ken. “So what activates the immune system to produce inflammation and cause disease? Is it the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink?” It is Ken’s hope that through study of the gut microbiome, the community of microbes that reside in our gastrointestinal tracts, there will be a discovery that points the way for both treatment and prevention of IBD. Read more about Dr. Ken Croitoru’s work here.
Dr. Vivian Huang is a Clinician Investigator in the Division of Gastroenterology, and has established the Preconception and Pregnancy in IBD clinical research program for Toronto and Ontario.
Her latest research will test the feasibility of using an online program to help patients monitor their IBD symptoms from the comfort of their own home. The Optimizing Maternal and Neonatal outcomes in IBD (OMNI) study began recruitment in November 2019 and has enrolled 18 pregnant IBD patients who monitor their symptoms and markers of gut inflammation, without having to visit a clinic. “It is important to achieve and maintain disease remission throughout pregnancy,” says Vivian. “With this study, we are looking for the best outcomes for pregnant patients and their babies, while allowing clinicians to easily monitor and advise on therapy in between clinic visits.”
In addition to this work, Vivian is dedicated to finding innovating ways to educate patients and clinicians about the management of IBD in pregnancy. This includes developing a web-based tool to improve informed decision making for patients, and spearheading the Multidisciplinary Care in IBD (MCIBD) conference since 2016, with the main focus on management of IBD from preconception, through pregnancy, to post-partum.
In addition to working directly with patients, Dr. Geoffrey Nguyen conducts clinical research in the area of health care delivery, and serves as the National Lead for the Promoting Access and Care through Centres of Excellence (PACE), a network of the five largest IBD Centres of Excellence in Canada. PACE is currently developing a telemedicine program to provide virtual specialist care to underserved remote regions of Ontario, and in just three years has reduced wait times to see an IBD specialist from an average of 126 days to 17 days.
“Timely and effective health care delivery is a crucial element in optimizing patient results. IBD specialist care has been associated with significant reductions in the need for surgery and mortality among IBD patients,” says Geoffrey. “Our tools for managing IBD are improving, but IBD patients must first be able to access these drugs to benefit from them. It’s important to me to explore innovative and sustainable ways to ensure that all IBD patients have equitable and timely access to state of the art IBD care.”