A University of Toronto professor of immunology has received a $2 million grant for her research into environmental changes and autoimmune disease, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), among South Asian Canadians.
“Canada has among the highest rates of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in the world. Increasingly we are seeing families new to Canada developing IBD for the first time,” said Mina Mawani, president and CEO of Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. “This research will shed new light as to how our Canadian environment and diet contribute to the development of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and brings us closer to new ways to prevent and treat these diseases affecting nearly 250,000 Canadians.”
The grant awarded Professor Jennifer Gommerman is part of an investment of $16 million over five years into research aiming to find new treatments for various chronic diseases. It was provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and announced by federal health minister Jane Philpott.
Dr. Gommerman’s study, also supported by Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, will explore how changes in an environmental setting can impact health, a pertinent question in a time when migration affects millions of people worldwide.
“Immigration often transplants individuals and families into radically different environments in terms of climate, prevailing diet, exposure to microbial pathogens, exposure to pollutants, and changes in lifestyle dictated by economic necessity; yet, we know little about the impact of global migration on health and disease” said Dr. Gommerman in a press release. “I am glad to be joined in this work by Dr. Ken Croituru, a clinician-scientist at Mount Sinai Hospital working on inflammatory bowel disease, who will be the clinical lead for this project.”
Rasheed Clarke is one of the many patients the project might help. An ulcerative colitis patient, he wonders if his condition is a result of his upbringing in a Western society.
“My parents are both from India and I still have family who live there. I was born in Canada and developed ulcerative colitis. There was never a case of inflammatory bowel disease in my family. So I wonder, what is it about the environment here that triggered UC [ulcerative colitis] in me? I have the feeling that I wouldn’t have developed colitis if I was born and raised in India, but I don’t know that for sure, which is why this research is so important,” said Clarke.
Three other researchers at the University of Toronto received similar grants for projects related to cancer, lung disease, and metabolic disease.
“This research funding will enable researchers to use these new technologies to better understand the complex interactions that cause chronic disease, and ultimately help us to identify better ways to prevent and treat chronic disease conditions,” said Dr. Philip Sherman, scientific director of the CIHR Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes.
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