Dr. Cohen and I often provide group educational programs for patients with inflammatory bowel disease, and our most popular program, by far, is called, Why Haven’t We Cured IBD Yet? We explain in our lectures that the reasons are as complex as the diseases: we haven’t had the right tools, we haven’t had the right group of experts, and we were not asking the right questions.
But that has changed.
Over the last five years, we have engaged in what we are calling a Moonshot for IBD– a multiyear, 10 million dollar initiative to cure these diseases. We believe that these audacious studies are leading to understanding the cause of IBD, and will revolutionize our ability to treat and to prevent these conditions.
Led by Gene Chang, the research is an ongoing and complex effort involving our scientists and physicians at the University of Chicago, and our affiliates: the Argonne National Labs (ANL) and the Marine Biological Institute (MBI), as well as in collaboration with one of our alumni, who is now at the Mayo Clinic.
It involves studying the development of recurrent IBD in patients who have had surgery. A fascinating and unexplained phenomenon in IBD is that after surgery, the disease frequently returns. We are leveraging this observation to study “new onset” IBD and have already made two critical discoveries:
• We have discovered genetic transformations that occur when the anatomy of the bowel is changed, and
•The gut bacteria develop previously unidentified defense mechanisms that stimulate an immune response and make them resistant to eradication.
GIRF has already generously supported he work that led to these discoveries through funding for an advanced DNA sequencer and microbiome equipment, among other key contributions. We have also secured funding from other University of Chicago friends and the Helmsley Charitable Trust.
However, the next steps in this effort are crucial. We need to validate these findings in larger groups of patients and of course, test the interventions that will lead to revolutionary treatments.
This project is about discovery. It is about being bold and fearless. Every member of our team, which includes the terrific investigators from UChicago, Argonne, and MBL, believes this project defines the most direct path to groundbreaking work.
Your contributions will be instrumental in maintaining our momentum, funding a critical component of the study that will make it possible to continue our work. I can’t wait to update you on our progress.
Five years ago, when I was developing our first strategic plan, I met with our senior faculty leaders and asked them all the same question, one that resonates well with the long traditions of the University of Chicago: “What can we do to change the world?” This is how we can change the world, for the better. I ask you now to be generous and be a part of the GIRF legacy of funding bold research that helps advance scientific knowledge and transform lives in the process.
[Excerpted from David T. Rubin, MD’s speech given at the 2019 GI Research Foundation ball]