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Inflammatory Bowel Disease: an EU-NZ integrated approach for characterizing its molecular multifactorial mechanisms

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EU-New Zealand alliance on bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affects the large intestine and symptoms include abdominal pain and discomfort. Researchers from the EU and New Zealand teamed up to investigate the biochemistry of IBD to develop integrated and improved treatment regimes.

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IBD mainly refers to ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, two different inflammatory disorders of the gut mucous membrane layer, the mucosa. The exact causes of IBD are still unknown, but emerging evidence suggests that a combination of immune system defects and disturbed gut microbiota contribute to IBD alongside genetic factors and changes in mucosa. The key objective of the EU-funded REINFORCE (Inflammatory bowel disease: An EU-NZ integrated approach for characterizing its molecular multifactorial mechanisms) project was to improve the understanding and management of all the issues that are associated with its onset and recurrence. The programme planned a series of research and technical expertise exchange visits to train the scientists involved and expand on their technical knowledge. Using the most advanced DNA microarray technique available, the researchers characterised the intestinal bacterial microbes in IBD patients. Samples from the gut were collected before and after a special anti-inflammatory diet. The researchers have also compiled a list of the next generation of probiotics. Microbes that are especially good for the digestive system, these good probiotic bacteria help to keep the gut healthy. Additionally, researchers have evaluated the impact of nutrient availability in the environment of commensal gut bacteria that benefit one another, such as Lactobacillus ruminis and Akkermansia muciniphila. Preliminary data indicated that the type of carbohydrate dictates the immunoregulatory properties of L. ruminis as well as the mucin-degrading capacity of A. muciniphila. In close collaboration with partner institutes, the REINFORCE project is studying the impact of genetics and nutrition on IBD onset. In particular, scientists are investigating the anti-inflammatory properties of sulforaphane – a constituent of broccoli sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables – as well as the effect of calcium on iron absorption. REINFORCE researchers have also focused on the innate immune system of IBD patients. For identification of biomarkers, they looked at the chemical signatures of patients' urine. The incidence of bowel disorders is increasing generally. REINFORCE has unearthed important information about the conditions that favour development of the disease to establish new and standardised therapy regimes that IBD specialists can follow. This is expected to improve treatment success and help public and practitioner awareness.


Inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease, mucosa, immune system, bacteria

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