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Shining light on IBD in Kiwi kids

8 August 2018

Cure Kids’ new Professor of Child Health Research aims to shine light on chronic digestive conditions affecting Kiwi kids

A leading paediatric gastroenterologist and Cure Kids’ newest Chair of Paediatric Research says New Zealand has some of the highest rates of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in the developed world and he’s committed to doing something about it.

Professor Andrew Day of the University of Otago, Christchurch, is currently heading up a comprehensive programme of research into IBD in children and adolescents. He’s hoping his research will make the future brighter for the thousands of young people living in New Zealand with chronic conditions affecting the gut, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and coeliac disease.

Currently the cost to the health system for children and young people with IBD is estimated to be $25 million each year.

Since assuming the position as Cure Kids’ Professor of Child Health Research at the end of last year, Professor Day has fast-tracked his investigations into children living with IBD. The surety enabled by the Cure Kids funding frees him up to do what he does best – research.

“Cure Kids has made a huge difference to my work by offering support, interactions and the ongoing resources and financial support to allow the research to happen faster. I anticipate that the findings from my current research projects will change the outcome for kids suffering these conditions,” says Professor Day.

Cure Kids CEO Frances Benge says it’s great to see what Professor Day and his colleagues are working on and to witness their relentless drive to identify improved outcomes for those with IBD.

“The discomfort and distress experienced by children and teenagers with the conditions can be debilitating. Young people report a decrease in quality of life, as well as large impact on school attendance and every-day activities,” says Benge. “This body of research has the potential to change that and give young people and their families hope.”

Rates of IBD are now reaching epidemic proportions in New Zealand and around the world, with children in the South Island at substantially higher risk than their North Island counterparts. Professor Day has been studying nearly 200 children with IBD in the South Island to pinpoint specific aspects of IBD – nutrition, biomarkers, gut bacteria and education and awareness, as well as the association between vitamin D levels and the disease. He and his team will compare this group to healthy controls which will help to highlight important differences between the two groups.

“I’m also doing a lot of work looking at nutritional therapies for the management of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. One of the methods we’ve been looking at is how the consumption of a special drink makes a difference to the bacteria in the gut of children with Crohn’s disease,” Professor Day says.

New Zealand has the third highest rate of IBD in the developed world, with one in every 227 people affected by it. The higher rates in South Island children are potentially due to variations in sunlight, and the corresponding vitamin D levels. Professor Day’s research aims to understand the impact of vitamin D on controlling the disease; to see if increased vitamin D leads to lower levels of inflammation.

The Professor is also committed to finding better ways to detect and monitor inflammation on the surface of the gut – seeing whether traditional blood tests or more invasive tests like colonoscopy could be replaced by stool, urine or saliva tests more suitable for children.

“We’ve been looking at several stool-based tests to determine how they might give us better information in terms of what the surface of the bowel is looking like and also to help us better predict if the person has a chance of having a flare-up or being affected by the disease in the future,” says Professor Day.

In addition, his Christchurch-based research team is developing innovative tools to learn how kids with IBD manage their disease and to find out more about their symptoms. This information is informing the design of an app for children with IBD to help identify patterns over time.

By the end of this year, Professor Day expects to be able to release some further results from his body of research, which he hopes will eventually lead to improved treatment options for young people.

“IBD is a lifelong condition with no cure, so we’re pleased that we have one of our brightest tackling this significant issue. We’re confident Professor Day’s work will help improve the quality of life for children that are affected by this significant condition,” adds Benge.

Cure Kids is currently backing four University Chairs around New Zealand in perpetuity in priority areas of child health research, in addition to its ongoing funding of vital health research projects addressing child health conditions.

ENDS


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