Dr. David Rubin: Good evening. I am Dr. David Rubin, and I am chief of the Section of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition, and the co-director of our Digestive Diseases Center at the University of Chicago Medicine. Thank you so much for joining us tonight. I want to offer a special thank you to the organizing committee for the 2021 Ball, the GI Research Foundation board, and of course, all of our sponsors for helping us achieve our fundraising goals.
Joining me tonight are two additional scientific advisors to the GI Research Foundation, Dr. Gene Chang, who is the associate section chief of the Section of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition, and who leads our research and academic missions; and Dr. Michael Charlton, who is the director of the Center of Liver Diseases, as well as the co-director of the Transplant Institute for the University of Chicago Medicine. Together, we are here to tell you about what we are raising money for tonight.
The past year has been a difficult year, and we all acknowledge how the pandemic has turned our lives upside down. We have learned a lot about ourselves; we have learned a lot about our community; and we have also learned the value of science when faced with complex problems. Science is what helped us understand COVID-19, and science is what—amazingly—brought multiple vaccines to all of us, and helped most of us get vaccinated.
We are grateful to see people working together to solve complex problems. When we reflect on this, however, we also acknowledge that this is what we have been doing successfully at the University of Chicago Medicine in digestive diseases for all these years. Critical to our success, always, is the GI Research Foundation.
It is through your support that we have been able to accomplish so much as a relatively small academic institution. Although we are growing and becoming much larger now, our success over all these years and our international reputation can be traced directly to the support that the GI Research Foundation has provided for us.
Over these many years, there have been a number of GIRF campaigns that have led to success at the University of Chicago. Dr. Kirsner stood in front of you, and announced a campaign to raise money to study genetics and inflammatory bowel disease and which led to the discovery of first gene for Crohn’s disease.
Gene Chang led the way with GIRF’s help to realize his vision for the gut microbiome (the organisms that live in our intestines) long before people were talking about the microbiome. This work led to important discoveries related to diet, the bugs that live in our gut, and how the they both may contribute to the development of diseases.
We are now on the precipice of a new direction for research. We want to continue to push the envelope so we can provide better care to our patients who live with these different diseases. Tonight, we are excited to tell you about the next frontier and to announce the Regenerative Medicine Program in Digestive Diseases at the University of Chicago Medicine.
Dr. Michael Charlton: Thank you. I’d also like to extend a warm welcome to everyone here this evening and also to extend my deep gratitude to everyone in attendance, but especially the members of the GI Research Foundation, for which I’m very proud serve as scientific advisor. I wanted to frame for you this evening just some of the unmet need in digestive diseases.
In liver transplantation alone, in the United States, we place about 13,000 patients on the waitlist for liver transplantation. We have about 8,900 organs become available. About a third of our patients either die while they are waiting for liver transplantation or become too sick before they are able to undergo this procedure. Suffice to say, the need to remedy this imbalance is great.
With regenerative medicine, we have two primary goals. One is to slow and reverse the course of disease using a patient’s own cells. Second, to address this profound shortage in organ supply through development of bioartificial organs and also through machine perfusion, enabling us to resuscitate organs that would otherwise be discarded. Dr. Gene Chang will now further elaborate on these concepts.
Dr. Gene Chang: Thank you. People often ask me what the single most important piece to the success and impact of our research programs is, and I always say, with no hesitation, GIRF. Your support gets us closer to defining the causes, management, and effective treatments for many GI disorders. Our success is based on a multidisciplinary team approach that recognizes that we are at our best while we work together. In the last year, despite the challenges of COVID-19, Dr. Rubin felt that we must continuously look forward in developing our research goals. He charged Dr. Charlton and me to come up with a new and bold strategic vision that would define GI and hepatology research at the University of Chicago for the next decade.
After much deliberation, we came up with a plan to develop a program in regenerative medicine in digestive diseases, where there was both need and opportunity. The need is that there are very few therapies to repair, heal, or replace injured and diseased tissues and organs. Patients are often left with few options, other than mitigation of long-term consequences and complications. The opportunity is to use regenerative medicine to take advantage of new developments in stem cell technologies, genetic engineering, and microbiome sciences, where tissue healing and repair take advantage of the natural regenerative processes of an individual’s own cells.
This is not fantasy, folks, this is science and achievable. We hope that GIRF will join us in pursuing this vision and look forward to opportunities to present our ideas and plans. Dr. Rubin?
Dr. David Rubin: I want to thank both Gene Chang and Michael Charlton for explaining some of the vision we have to advance science in a new way. We are all working to push the boundaries of what we do. The everyday care of all our patients remains a centerpiece of our work, but in our labs and in our efforts in the research realm, we strive to advance the science of medicine and to develop new therapies to identify the causes and develop cures for digestive diseases, and ultimately to prevent them altogether. But we need your help.
On behalf of all the faculty, staff, the nurses, fellows, students, the technicians, and scientists in the expansive and growing group of people representing digestive diseases at the University of Chicago Medicine, I want to thank for your generosity.