Progress made with gut health

Immunology and microbiology PhD student Ed Taylor presents his research on the role immune system...
Immunology and microbiology PhD student Ed Taylor presents his research on the role immune system T cells play in colorectal cancer to the gut health network workshop yesterday in Dunedin. Photo by Linda Robertson.
A group trying to improve the ''poor public image'' of gut-related diseases, as well as finding ways to treat them, had a successful year, its annual report says.

The University of Otago gut health network's first annual report was given to members yesterday at a workshop at Toitu Otago Settlers Museum. The network forges links between disciplines to treat diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and rheumatological diseases.

''The challenge is to understand the role the gut has in the [development] of these diseases, as once this is understood it will form the basis of new diagnostic and treatment options,'' the report said.

Participants included geneticists, immunologists, microbiologists, paediatricians, rheumatologists and surgeons.

In the report, Emeritus Prof Gil Barbezat said the wide range of specialty areas was ''testimony to the [network's] appropriate view of the gut being at the centre of the human being''.

''Drawing in the public, as evidenced in the highly successful public research forum in February 2013, is important for their education, as well as to improve the generally poor public image currently relating to gastrointestinal disorders,'' Prof Barbezat said.

Network directors Associate Prof Michael Schultz and Associate Prof Grant Butt, in the report, said the membership was mostly drawn from the Dunedin and Christchurch campuses, but included people from other centres.

Achievements in 2012-13 included establishing a local patient database/tissue/blood bank, a public education forum, collaborative funding applications, and collaborative publishing.

''For 2013 the challenge will be to build on this foundation, further developing the research programmes and extending the links with patient groups and industry partners.''

Dr Elizabeth Forbes-Blom, of Wellington's Malaghan Institute, was unable to be guest speaker as her flight was cancelled.

The gut health network held its inaugural workshop in June last year, after being accepted as a research theme by the university in February last year.

- eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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