Fostering Excellence in IBD Research: Insights from the Meeting of the Minds Conference

Conference attendees on Day 2 on the Meeting of the Mind Conference

An account of the annual meeting for researchers and clinicians by Roshane Francis, PhD, Research Impact Communication and Evaluation Manager at Crohn's and Colitis Canada

The recent Meeting of the Minds conference, hosted by Crohn's and Colitis Canada on November 3-4, 2023, brought together a diverse group of people, including researchers, healthcare professionals, and individuals living with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. This conference served as a hub for sharing insights and discoveries in the realm of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) research. In my role as the Research Impact Communication and Evaluation Manager, specializing in knowledge translation (KT), I had the privilege of attending this event, which showcased the remarkable advancements being made in IBD research.

One of the standout moments at the conference was Dr. Deanna Gibson's presentation on the Microbiome in IBD. Her research illuminated the fact that there's no one-size-fits-all diet for IBD, highlighting the intricate and multifaceted nature of this disease. Of particular interest were her findings regarding the influence of maternal breast milk on a baby's predisposition to colitis, emphasizing that factors beyond diet play a role in IBD, and may begin at the time of birth.

Dr. Premysl Bercik's presentation provided valuable insights into the relationship between IBD and anxiety, revealing the complex aspects of this condition. His research, conducted using mice colonized with specific bacteria, demonstrated how anxiety-related behaviors could be connected to changes in brain chemistry due to molecules created by gut bacteria. This connection has been termed as the gut-brain axis and underscores the importance of comprehensive, holistic care for individuals with IBD.

Next, Dr. Nicholas Zachos introduced the concept of organoids, miniaturized versions of organs grown outside the human body. This innovative approach holds great promise for studying IBD at the cellular level using human tissue instead of the closest substitute, mouse. This approach offers a more accurate understanding of the disease's mechanisms, and thus, improve drug development.

Expanding on Dr. Zachos' work, Dr. Simon Hirota introduced the exciting "gut on a chip" system. Previously, researchers were able to study only one aspect of the gut, while it is well known the gut is a intricate organ. This remarkable technology replicates the gut's complex environment, complete with immune cells, gut cells, and microbiota in a tiny, silicone-based device. By growing organoids in this synthetic device, researchers can study how the microbiota interact with both gut and immune cells and cause inflammation. These insights are then used to further understand how different factors (living and non-living) can improve or impede IBD.

Throughout the conference, epigenetics emerged as a central theme, with presentations by Drs. Klaus Kaestner and Daniel DeCarvalho. Kaestner's introduced the role of early embryonic proteins in IBD, while DeCarvalho reveled specific DNA sequences in our cells were able to trigger immune responses added another layer to our understanding of IBD's complexity.

The conference was a treasure trove of knowledge, highlighting the remarkable progress and collaboration within the IBD research community. As we continue to unravel the intricate complexities of IBD, events like the "Meeting of the Minds" serve as beacons of hope, offering promise for both patients and researchers in their quest for better IBD management and understanding.

Meeting of the Minds Speakers

Left to right: Drs. Charles Bernstein, Florian Rieder, Bram Verstockt, James Lee

Dr. Eric Benchimol

Dr. Eric Benchimol

  • 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.

Other Areas of Interest