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.

2021 Grant Recipients

Dr. Alberto Caminero

Dr. Alberto Caminero | McMaster University
Research: The role of microbial metabolism in food intolerances associated with inflammatory bowel disease
Date: 2021-2024
Amount: $375,000

Patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) report a variety of food intolerances. However, the main dietary triggers and pathways involved are unknown. Certain foods such as wheat and dairy that are not properly digested by our enzymes may cause adverse effects. Although our gut microbiota may help in the digestion, IBD patients often present an altered microbiota, which may include the loss of beneficial microbes.

Dr. Caminero’s study aims to broaden our understanding of whether the microbes hosted in the guts of IBD patients have a reduced digestive capacity against certain types of foods thus causing adverse effects. The study will also look into the effects of different dietary components in animal models of colitis.

The findings of this study will help guide dietary advice in clinical practice; in particular, it will pave the way for novel preventive and therapeutic approaches using probiotics in IBD patients with specific food intolerances.

To learn more about Dr. Caminero's research, watch the video below.


Dr. Jean-Eric Ghia

Dr. Jean-Eric Ghia | University of Manitoba
Research: Function of follicular dendritic cell secreted protein in ulcerative colitis
Date: 2021-2022
Amount: $50,000

People living with ulcerative colitis are known to have inflammation and imbalances of microbes in the gut. Dr. Ghia and his team aim to study the effects of a protein (follicular dendritic cell secreted protein) in regulating inflammation, the immune system and the gut microbes and their impact in the development of ulcerative colitis.

To learn more about Dr. Ghia's research, watch the video below.


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.

Past recipients

To learn about the 2018 completed research projects, click here.
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