Publish Date: 
Wednesday, September 9, 2020 - 08:00

Centre of Research Excellence in Digestive Health to improve outcomes for chronic digestive disorders

With unexplained gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms a common and costly burden for many Australians, the new NHMRC-funded Centre for Research Excellence (CRE) in Digestive Health will advance the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of chronic digestive diseases. 

Medical specialists, allied health staff, nurses and researchers from across Australia and overseas will join forces to make a difference for patients with chronic unexplained GI disorders.

More than one third of Australians have chronic or relapsing unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms, including abdominal pain, early satiety, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea. For more than half of these people, symptoms are severe enough to require a General Practitioner (GP) consultation for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. 

Princess Alexandra Hospital and The University of Queensland Professor, Gerald Holtmann, who is affiliated with TRI, said the diagnostic process can be both comprehensive and costly for the patient, with most cases classed as having a functional gastrointestinal disorder, most notably irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional dyspepsia. 

“Due to the poorly characterised and often inadequately managed diagnoses, treatments are often prone to failure resulting in frequent health care consultations, higher use of pathology and endoscopy investigations and a subsequent high socio-economic burden,” said Professor Holtmann.

The CRE in Digestive Health based in Brisbane at the TRI, Newcastle, Sydney and Melbourne aims to address these problems by creating and implementing an evidence-based approach for the management of patients with unexplained functional GI disorders. 

“Collaborating across multiple sites creates both scale and opportunity for coordinated basic and translational research in the field of functional GI disorders which will streamline patient care as well as generate a foundation for structured policy-making to benefit patients across primary and tertiary care within Australia,” Professor Holtmann said.

 A key measure of success for the centre will be the ability to treat more patients’ effectively in primary care and avoid over utilisation of diagnostic and therapeutic healthcare resources. 

The University of Queensland Diamantina Institute Professor of Microbiology, Mark Morrison said the new CRE in Digestive Health is designed to come up with cures instead of treatments for the painful GI symptoms.

“By developing new knowledge and understanding of gastrointestinal disorders, the Centre of Excellence will provide strategies in diagnoses and treatments that have scientific, medical and commercial value to the Australian community and industry,” said Professor Morrison.

“I’m excited to be at the Translational Research Institute because it brings together interests and expertise from universities, the hospital sector as well as industry partners to look at what are the most bearing issues in gastrointestinal disorders.”

The Centre will involve both national and international collaborations from world-leading gastrointestinal researchers, including chief investigators:

  • Laureate Professor Nick Talley (University of Newcastle)
  • Professor Gerald Holtmann (Princess Alexandra Hospital Brisbane & University of Queensland)
  • Professor Marjorie Walker (University of Newcastle)
  • Professor Michael Jones (Macquarie University)
  • Professor Mark Morrison (University of Queensland Diamantina Institute at TRI)
  • Professor Simon Keely (University of Newcastle)
  • Professor Peter Gibson (Monash University)
  • Professor Sally Chan (University of Newcastle)
  • Professor Jan Tack (University of Leuven, Belgium)
  • Professor Jeff Coombes (University of Queensland). 

Photo: Gastroenterologist Professor Gerald Holtmann, neurologist Dr Marcus Gray, gastroenterologist Dr Ayesha Shah and mircobiologist Professor Mark Morrison