GIDRU awards support studies at world-class research facility

    KINGSTON, ON, Sept. 4 /CNW Telbec/ - Gastrointestinal disease is probably
not the last frontier for medical science, but it's definitely one of the
least understood human health problems. While it's hard to know what's gone
wrong - and even harder to determine the cause - medical researchers at the
Gastrointestinal Diseases Research Unit (GIDRU) at Kingston General Hospital
and Queen's University are leading the way to uncovering the mysteries of
gastrointestinal disease and function.
    In addition to attracting an increasing profile and attention in the
scientific world, the research projects developed by GIDRU's international
clinical scientists and experts are also garnishing financial support in this
challenging and often overlooked research area.
    Queen's University Department of Medicine's Dr. Michael Blennerhassett
and Dr. Elaine Petrof were amongst 12 recipients of three-year awards in the
Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Canada Grants in Research Program. The
program is intended to support research on finding a cure for inflammatory
bowel disease (IBD). Grants to a maximum of $150,000 per annum for up to three
years are awarded to investigators working alone or in collaboration with
    "Funding from organizations like the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation is
crucial in supporting innovative research initiatives that may be directly
applicable to our understanding of human disease," says Blennerhassett.
"Increased knowledge may reveal new targets and pharmacological intervention
in human disease, as well as new parameters for evaluation of existing
    Blennerhassett received funding from CCFC for his study titled "Neuronal
survival and axon regeneration in intestinal inflammation." The study examines
the role of specific inflammatory factors in intestinal remodeling in colitis,
a condition that causes intestinal tissue to become inflamed, develop sores
and bleed easily. His study focuses on the early events in inflammation that
cause functional and structural damage to the enteric nervous system which can
cause the death of enteric neurons in severe colitis. Inflammation also causes
intestinal smooth muscle cell (ISMC) growth, which results in bowel wall
thickening. Together, these changes are major contributors to the altered
bowel motility that is a significant feature of the inflamed intestine.
Blennerhassett's study will provide a better understanding of how the
intestinal nervous system is damaged in colitis and the processes that act to
restore a stable condition. In time, this research will give insight into the
formation of intestinal strictures in Crohn's disease, where these processes
fail and are irreversible.
    Recently recruited from the University of Chicago, probiotics and
microbial-epithelial cell expert Dr. Elaine Petrof received funding for her
study into the effect of probiotic conditioned media on inflammatory colitis.
This research initiative will focus on how the combination of genetic
background and exposure to environmental factors, or colonization by certain
inciting bacteria, can result in the development of inflammatory colitis in
susceptible individuals. Petrof explains that any live bacteria, including
probiotic bacteria, have the potential to become pathogenic when the host
defenses are compromised, be it from immune deficiencies or illness. As many
of the treatments for IBD result in some degree of immune compromise, the use
of conditioned media instead of live probiotic bacteria may improve safety.
    "Because little can be done presently to correct genetic susceptibility,
changing the gut flora, or intestinal bacteria normally present in the gut, is
being intensely studied as a therapeutic strategy for IBD," explains Petrof.
"These investigations could lead to novel probiotic-based treatments for the
management of inflammatory disease."
    In addition to the prestigious CCFC awards, post-doctoral fellows
Pierre-Yves Gougeon and Donna Daly received two-year fellowships from the
Canadian Association of Gastroenterology (CAG). These industry-sponsored
awards are part of the CAG post-doctoral fellowship program established in
partnership with the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) to support
research excellence in Canadian gastroenterology, hepatology and related
    Pierre-Yves was awarded a fellowship sponsored by the international
pharmaceutical company Janssen-Ortho Inc. for his research into the positive
aspects of intestinal inflammation that promote healing and repair in IBD.
With Canada having one of the highest incidences of IBD in the world, the
importance of research into this little-understood disease is crucial.
    Focusing on gastrointestinal function, Donna's research, sponsored by
Axcan Pharma Inc., concentrates on identifying specific neural pathways
between the gut and the brain and how ion channels (molecules that mediate
nerve activity) can affect the release of a hormone linked to satiety. This
study will provide a better understanding of the basic mechanisms to control
food intake and potentially lead to future drug or dietary therapies in the
treatment and prevention of obesity.

    First established in 1983, GIDRU is located in a state-of-the-art
facility at Kingston General Hospital and is home to over 20 post-doctoral and
clinical scientists from as far away as Australia, Ireland and Mexico City.
The researchers at GIDRU are committed to translating research findings into
powerful new treatments to improve care for individuals battling digestive

    Affiliated with Queen's University, Kingston General Hospital is a 
456-bed specialized teaching and research hospital that serves more than
500,000 people in southeastern Ontario and is the community hospital for the
Kingston area. KGH provides an array of specialized acute and ambulatory
clinical services including trauma, cardiac, stroke, pediatric, perinatal, end
stage renal and stem cell transplants. Home to the Cancer Centre of
Southeastern Ontario, KGH is dedicated to compassionate, high quality health
care in a dynamic academic research environment. It features a robust research
program and provides hands-on skill training for close to 1,900 health-care
students annually. For more information, visit the web site at .

For further information:

For further information: Media contact: Kim Kattouw, KGH Public Affairs,
(613) 549-6666 ext 4687, pager (613)536-7733,

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