For the first time, scientists from 19 European countries have joined forces to form an interdisciplinary network for investigating the causes of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), in the hope to improve its diagnosis and treatment.
The European Science Foundation funded network GENIEUR (Genes in Irritable Bowel Syndrome Europe) aims to identify genes and DNA variants that may contribute to increase one’s susceptibility to develop bowel symptoms.
Today, IBS affects more than 10 percent of the general population in Sweden, and is the most common cause of work absenteeism after common colds. Its diagnosis is based on a combination of symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea, which all strongly impact patients’ quality of life.
Because of the unknown etiology there is currently no cure, and remedies can only alleviate symptoms and are effective in some patients but not in others.
Over 70 research groups participate in the GENIEUR network, which is headed by Dr Beate Niesler at Heidelberg University Hospital’s Institute of Human Genetics, and includes research teams from the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg and Karolinska Institutet.
“Our goal is to use the knowledge of researchers with different expertise in order to solve the mystery of IBS”, says Professor Magnus Simren, from the Department of Internal Medicine and Clinical Nutrition at the Sahlgrenska Academy, who is also co-Chair of the GENIEUR initiative and head of a research group focusing on mechanisms underlying the symptoms of IBS.
“IBS is only modestly inherited, and there are so far very few examples of known predisposing genes” adds docent Mauro D’Amato from Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Biosciences and Nutrition, member of the GENIEUR management committee and leader of the team who discovered the involvement of TNFSF15 and NPSR1 genes in IBS. “We need very large numbers of thoroughly-characterized patients in order to increase our chances to detect true genetic predisposing factors”.
For this purpose, the teams in GENIEUR aim to establish a large IBS biobank of clinical material from patients and healthy controls.
In so doing, they are also aiming to identify reliable biomarkers and compile a catalogue of criteria to precisely assign patients to individual clinical subgroups.
Besides gastroenterologists and human geneticists, the network also includes nutritionists, psychiatrists, immunologists, physiologists, neurobiologists, microbiologists, bioinformatic specialists and epidemiologists.
“With this broad knowledge included, the potential to achieve clinically important discoveries for this large group of patients is tremendous” says Prof Simren.