Canadian medical research breakthrough - Gut bacteria combination shows risk for Crohn's disease

GEM Project logo

A discovery that paves the way for prevention and new treatments

Toronto, ON, July 25, 2023 - A Canadian research team has discovered that the gut bacteria combination of those who develop Crohn’s disease is different from those who remain healthy - years before they develop Crohn’s.  

This discovery opens up the way to:  

Predict a person's risk of developing Crohn's disease.

Find ways to prevent Crohn's disease before symptoms appear.

Develop new treatments for those who already have the disease.

Dr. Ken Croitoru of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, part of Sinai Health, GEM Project Architect and Lead Investigator, said: “Since 2008, the global, unique Genetic, Environmental and Microbial (GEM) Project has been following 5,000 healthy relatives of people with Crohn’s disease around the world.  

Ken Croitoru researchers in their lab

GEM Project staff members  

He continued: “These years of effort led us to recently discover that a specific combination of gut bacteria is connected to the future development of Crohn’s disease. We’re starting to see the pattern of bacteria that may be triggering Crohn’s disease, moving us closer to better treatments for those with the disease or even preventing it for those at risk. I’m hopeful that within five years, patients will benefit through evidence-based treatments focused on the gut bacteria or diet modification.” 

Watch Dr. Ken Croitoru explain the discovery and its importance 

Lori Radke, President & CEO, Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, said: “We challenged our research partners in 2007 to develop a study to accelerate progress to a cure for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. As a result, the GEM Project was born. We’re proud to deliver groundbreaking results based on that foresight.  

She continued: “This discovery is inspiring for the Crohn’s and colitis community. It gives us hope for major improvements in care and prevention for this lifelong disease. We’re incredibly thankful to our donors who have supported us for 15 years, and our major funding partner The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.” 

Background on the Genetic, Environmental, Microbial (GEM) Project 


In 2007, Crohn’s and Colitis Canada challenged its research partners to propose a study to accelerate the discovery of a cure for Crohn’s and colitis. They came back with the proposal for the GEM Project. 

By the Numbers

2008 start of Crohn’s and Colitis Canada's GEM Project

Globe with pinpointed locations

107 participant tracking international sites in 7 countries - Canada, USA, United Kingdom, Israel, Australia, New Zealand and Sweden

$22 million CAD invested to date. A major fundraising partner is the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust

Children illustration


5000 healthy first-degree relatives (children, siblings) of people with Crohn's disease being followed

 More than 100 have developed Crohn's disease

17 scientific publications since 2015

Globe with pinpointed locations

Crohn’s disease 

  • Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). These are lifelong diseases that inflame the lining of the gastrointestinal tract and lead to severe diarrhea, constipation, rectal bleeding and blood in the stool, unrelenting abdominal pain and cramps, fatigue – and more. There is no cure 
  • These diseases usually start in adolescence or early adulthood in otherwise healthy people - although there is an increasing number of children being diagnosed 
  • Crohn’s can strike anywhere from mouth to anus, but is usually located in the lower part of the small bowel and/or the colon 

Crohn’s and Colitis Canada  

We are on a relentless journey to transform the lives of people affected by Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis by delivering impact at all stages of life, in every corner of the country, by     

  • finding the cures for these lifelong diseases, and   
  • improving the quality of life of everyone affected by these diseases.   
Our 2023-2026 Impact Strategy creates a roadmap for our journey with a focus on
  • accelerating the impact of research – address key gaps and success factors; shorten the timeline from discovery to patient impact  
  • reaching further – help more people with Crohn’s and colitis and their caregivers with our wide range of programs  
  • boosting awareness and understanding – engage and motivate Canadians  
  • driving system change – advocate and partner to influence change  

Follow us at, @getgutsycanada on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok, and at Crohn’s and Colitis Canada on YouTube and LinkedIn

For more information, contact:

Paul Kilbertus 
Senior Manager, Communications and Public Relations, Crohn's and Colitis Canada 

  • Canada has among the highest incidence rates of Crohn's and colitis in the world.
  • 1 in 140 Canadians lives with Crohn’s or colitis.
  • Families new to Canada are developing these diseases for the first time.
  • Incidence of Crohn’s in Canadian kids under 10 has doubled since 1995.
  • People are most commonly diagnosed before age 30.

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