Finding Causes and Triggers

A common question asked by patients and their caregivers is "What causes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis?". Unfortunately, the causes and triggers of these chronic diseases remain unknown.

With the support of grants from Crohn's and Colitis Canada, the researchers noted below are moving us closer to discovering the factors that lead to the onset of these diseases by researching environmental triggers, genetic markers, and more.

2020 Grant Recipients

Dr. Brian Coombes
Dr. Brian Coombes  |  McMaster University
Research: A novel pre-clinical model of Crohn's disease influenced by psychological stress
Date: 2020-2023
Amount: $375,000

Dr. Brian Coombes and his lab are pursing research to understand the microbes that drive chronic inflammation in Crohn’s disease, with a focus on adherent-invasive E. coli (AIEC). AIEC are more abundant in people with Crohn’s disease, but currently we don’t understand why. What is known is that AIEC can influence disease course in pre-clinical models of Crohn’s disease, which has been the focus of this research.

An important contributor to Crohn’s disease is psychological stress, however the reasons why stress can exacerbate symptoms and causes flares is unclear. Dr. Coombes and his team have developed a pre-clinical model in which psychological stress leads to changes in the gut microbiome that are similar to the microbiome of Crohn’s disease patients. This dysbiosis is dominated by the expansion of AIEC and other bacteria in the ileum. They have started to characterize the host immune response to stress that influences AIEC expansion. With this new grant, Dr. Coombes will continue to advance understanding of the immune response and microbial changes imposed by stress that drive microbial imbalance, and pursue strategies to remediate the gut microbiome.

2019 Grant Recipients

Dr. Pierr-Yves von der Weid
Dr. Pierre-Yves von der Weid University of Calgary
Research: Importance of mesenteric lymphatic dysfunctions in the perpetuation of Crohn's disease
Date: 2019-2022
Amount: $375,000

Early descriptions of Crohn’s disease reveal that inflamed guts have an abnormal lymphatic system. This system, an important part of the body’s immunity that spreads white blood cells, plays vital roles in the gut. It maintains a proper tissue fluid balance and helps absorb digested fats. More importantly, intestinal lymphatic vessels enable specialized immune cells to travel to the lymph nodes and spark an effective immune response.

If the lymphatic system is not functioning properly, it could initiate or worsen diseased states in the gut. Thanks to new advanced imaging techniques, we now have a better understanding of lymphatic system functions – illustrating its role in inflammatory disorders such as Crohn’s disease.

Using mouse models of Crohn’s, this project will test the idea that abnormal lymphatics in the inflamed intestine lead to an impaired lymph flow and immune response – and that this effect perpetuates inflammation.

If a dysfunctional lymphatic system is found to worsen gut inflammation, it means that using therapies to restore lymphatic function could be a new, viable option to treat Crohn’s.

2018 Grant Recipients

Dr. Christophe Altier

Dr. Christophe Altier | University of Calgary
Research: Targeting spinal microglia in IBD pain
Date: 2018-2021
Amount: $375,000

Persistent abdominal pain is a common challenge for people living with IBD. While treatments are available, researchers still do not fully understand the underlying factors that contribute to the onset of persistent pain.

Through prior research, Dr. Altier discovered that spinals cells, known as microglia, communicate with cells in the gastrointestinal tract. Building on this discovery, Dr. Altier will research the make-up of this cellular communication in order to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the onset of persistent abdominal pain, and identify opportunities for new forms of treatment.

Dr Wallace MacNaughton

Dr. Wallace MacNaughton | University of Calgary
Research: Novel peptides to enhance mucosal healing
Date: 2018-2021
Amount: $375,000

Evidence shows that the lining of the intestine in people with IBD does not repair itself as effectively as it does in healthy people, and researchers do not know why. This lining is an important barrier and, when compromised, causes inflammation and significant pain and discomfort for people living with IBD.

Dr. MacNaughton and his team will use novel approaches to better understand the healing process. With this information, they will develop new therapies or adjuncts to current therapies to keep people living with IBD in remission.

Past recipients

To learn about the 2017 completed research projects, click here.
To learn about the 2016 completed research projects, click here.
To learn about the 2015 and 2014 completed research projects, click here.

  • 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