The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and the Australasian Gastro Intestinal Research Foundation (AGIRF) were awarded $5.2 million in grants from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to investigate environmental factors that trigger inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Cases of the disease have been rising in the developing world, particularly in Asia.
The three-year grants will financially support leading researchers in Hong Kong and Australia, part of the Eastern Inflammatory Bowel Disease Gut Microbiota (ENIGMA) consortium to identify microbial organisms and associated dietary elements that lead to Crohn’s disease development.
The ENIGMA consortium is composed of leading clinicians, microbiologists, and scientists, and focuses on discovering key microbial organisms and related environmental factors that cause or contribute to the development of Crohn’s disease. Over the past eight years, a scientific platform has been established across nations with low but rapidly increasing (China and Hong Kong) and high (Australia) Crohn’s disease cases.
“As Crohn’s disease becomes more common across industrialized societies, the ENIGMA consortium will have a pivotal role in understanding and preventing the global increase of the disease,” Garabet Yeretssian, PhD, director of the Helmsley Charitable Trust’s IBD and Crohn’s Disease Program, said in a news release.
“We hope these initiatives will help researchers gain deeper insights into the dietary and environmental events and unravel new mechanisms to slow the progression of Crohn’s disease,” he said.
Research professors from world-class scientific centers in Australia (St Vincent’s Hospital and the University of Melbourne, Michael Kamm, MD) and Hong Kong (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Siew Ng, MD; Jun Yu, MD; and Joseph Sung, MD, PhD) will lead this project together with the University of Queensland (Mark Morrison, PhD) and key IBD collaborative partners in mainland China.
The goal of the consortium is to analyze the factors that cause Crohn’s disease in these nations, leading to better dietary and bacterial modification treatments.
The Helmsley Charitable Trust aims to improve lives by supporting health-related research around the world. Their IBD and Crohn’s Disease program supports efforts to find a cure — and better treatments — for these conditions. Over $190 million has been awarded to leading institutions worldwide, allowing researchers to investigate various aspects of these diseases and integrate cutting-edge technologies and scientific insight into their research. These funds are the first the trust has awarded in Asia and Australia.
“The rise of Crohn’s disease in the East presents a golden opportunity to essentially travel back in time and study the origin of a disease using 21st-century knowledge and techniques,” Ng said. “By pinning down dietary and bacteria changes that are most important, we may have a shot at preventing new cases and slowing the global rise of Crohn’s disease.”
The financial support is much appreciated by the consortium, Ng added. It has “allowed [the CUHK] to study environmental drivers to Crohn’s disease as it emerges in new populations. It will have a real impact on our communities challenged by this chronic disease,” she said.
Kamm, director of AGIRF, said the collaboration is grateful for the Helmsley support of “this leading-edge research endeavor that seeks to unlock the cause and specific new treatments for Crohn’s disease.
“The bugs in the gut and the food that we eat are likely to be fundamental to the development of Crohn’s disease,” he added. Kamm pointed out that experts from various geographical areas and ethnic backgrounds “offers the prospect of exciting discoveries of immediate relevance to patients.”
Yeretssian said this type of “expansive and groundbreaking research is needed to develop interventions that limit the global rise in disease incidence and brings us closer to finding cures for Crohn’s disease.”