2020 Research Appeal

“Our daughter, Kelsey, had ulcerative colitis when she was first born. After the first anxious and frustrating phase, the disease was dormant for many years but then 8 years ago, when she was 20, it flared again. It was only after a taxing period of significant treatment that medically supported remission was reached again.”
– Dale and Kerry McDermid, long-time supporters of CCA research initiatives

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Facing a life with an unpredictable chronic disease, like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, can take its toll on everyone involved. When Kelsey’s ulcerative colitis was at its worst, it was only the quick action taken by the family GP and an expert gastroenterologist that enabled her to avoid major surgery.

However, Kelsey still had to endure intense drug therapy throughout a lengthy hospital stay to reach a point where her health was stable. It was only after this exhausting period that she was prescribed with a combination of less intrusive ongoing medications and infusions that has allowed her to live without such severe health interventions.

But this disease still impacts many aspects of day to day life. Kelsey has had to make choices for her health, such as giving up her career, and has had to make the lifestyle changes that living with the challenges of a highly compromised immune system require. She is now 28 and living in a state of good health maintained by medication and monthly hospital admissions for infusion treatment. She has recently experienced the joy of having her first child, but she remains on guard to any flares and is always careful with her well-being.

Dale and Kerry don’t only have one person in the family with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD); their nephew and son’s fiancé have also been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and they have also needed to make choices on the best course of action for their health.

Having choices when managing an incurable disease is vital and it is the extensive research that continues to drive forward that is the source of these options. Crohn’s & Colitis Australia (CCA) is dedicated to supporting researchers to answer the complex questions surrounding IBD but we need the help of people like you to do so.

The most recent recipient of the Mandy and Edward Yencken Postgraduate Research Scholarship is Dr Betty Wu (pictured right) who shares with you what previous generous donations have helped to achieve:

“Receiving this scholarship has humbled and honoured me at the same time, to equal measure, and it is only because of the scholarship funds that I have been able to undertake this research full-time. To me this scholarship is a symbol of solidarity and optimism in the face of adversity, it says: regardless of the disease, there is always something one can do, however great or small, to make things better.

Australia has one of the highest rates of IBD world-wide, with approximately 1 in every 250 persons affected. By 2022 there will be an estimated 100,000 Australians living with Crohn’s or colitis. There is no cure for IBD currently, and the illness is kept at bay by drugs that suppress the immune system. Unfortunately, these drugs have side effects, they do not always work and sometimes they work for a period of time only.

My research aims to understand how the microbiota in an IBD gut are different from healthy ones – in particular, if and how these differences are driven by the drugs used in IBD. This could open up a new frontier in safer and more effective IBD treatments. The results from my study will then make up a part of the Australia IBD Microbiome (AIM) Study.

The AIM Study’s goal is to define the microbiota signature of IBD in Australia. ‘Microbiota signature’ refers to the unique composition of bacteria, viruses and fungi within the gut of a group of individuals. AIM brings together a team of IBD doctors, dietitians and scientists from 15 hospitals. Unlike most past microbiome studies, AIM will follow each participant over 24 months. Stool samples will be collected on a quarterly basis so that we can identify trends and shifts in the microbiota signature overtime. This information is matched to lifestyle and disease-related data allowing important relationships to be discovered. For example, a potentially discoverable relationship would be: does the elimination of processed food result in a rise in good bacteria, and could this be responsible for this participant’s long-term Crohn’s remission?

There is a real need for better treatment options in IBD. The majority of the available treatments do no more than suppress the immune system. However, we know that IBD is due to more than just a misbehaving immune system. The microbes inside our body, our lifestyle and environment all play a role. There’s a need for research to understand the role of the IBD microbiome as an interface between the external environment and internal immune system, as this is where potential new therapeutic targets may lie.

At the completion of AIM, we expect to have one of the largest and most comprehensive IBD microbiome databases in Australia and globally. This data could then identify microbial signals linked to IBD, paving the way to better therapeutic decision-making, and development of potential new treatments centered around microbial manipulation.”

Like many others in the IBD community, Dale and Kerry are determined for there to be better treatment options available. They hope that their donations will help researchers like Dr Betty Wu push the boundaries of treatment options and discover faster, safer and better treatments that will protect the people they love, so they do not have to constantly be in a heightened state of concern for their own bodies.

This year, with your help, we hope to raise enough to fund a new CCA research scholarship in 2021!

IBD affects everyone differently. More in depth research is needed so that no one is left without options no matter their age or the severity of the disease. Research into IBD has already made significant advancements and you can be part of the innovative research that is emerging on IBD by making a small donation which will transform lives and families.