Taking digestive health research to the next level

Sep 7 2020

With unexplained gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms a common and costly burden for many Australians, a new NHMRC funded Centre for Research Excellence will be launched on Wednesday 9 September, to advance the understanding, identification and treatment of chronic digestive diseases. 

With the launch event delayed due to COVID-19, it hasn’t stopped the Centre for Research Excellence in Digestive Health activity getting underway. This multi-disciplinary team of collaborators from across Australia and overseas will provide scale and opportunity for coordinated basic and translational research in the field of functional GI disorders that will generate information for health policy making for patients in primary and tertiary care and the wider Australian community. 
“For more than 50% of patients with chronic GI symptoms, no structural or biochemical abnormality is found on routine testing” said Chief Investigator Laureate Professor Nick Talley when the NHMRC funding was announced. 

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

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 too frequent health care consultations, higher use of pathology and endoscopy investigations and a subsequent high socio-economic burden. The Centre for Research Excellence in Digestive Health aims to address these problems by creating and implementing an evidence-based approach for the management of patients with unexplained functional GI disorders. 

The Centre will involve both national and international collaborations from world-leading gastrointestinal researchers including chief investigators Laureate Profess Nick Talley (University of Newcastle), Professor Gerald Holtman (University of Queensland), Professor Marjorie Walker (University of Newcastle), Professor Michael Jones (Macquarie University), Professor Mark Morrison (University of Queensland Diamantina Institute), Professor Simon Keely (University of Newcastle), Professor Peter Gibson (Monash University). Professor Sally Chan (University of Newcastle), Professor Jan Tack (University of Leuven, Belgium), and Professor Jeff Coombes (University of Queensland).  
 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.