The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust just announced $6 million in grants to establish a European research consortium to investigate Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease is, of course, a type of IBD, a complex and often crippling disease that can cause poor health, dietary upset, and even death if left untreated. The number of people with IBD is growing rapidly.
But while ulcerative colitis, the other disease implicated in IBD, is fairly evenly distributed around the world, Crohn’s disease has greater prevalence the further you get away from the equator. Recently, it’s been suggested that a link between sunlight and vitamin D deficiency may be partly to blame.
The new consortium is devoted to looking at how the human immune system interacts with the body’s own microbiome—the bacteria and other microorganisms that reside on the skin, in the saliva, mucosa, and gut—hoping to find stem cell-based therapies that will target and potentially eliminate Crohn’s. Genomic medicine, in other words.
Lately genomic medicine seems to be a pet project of Helmsley’s—goodness knows it’s generating a lot of buzz worldwide. In 2013, it contributed a whopping $42 million to found a research facility dedicated to genomic medicine at the Salk Institute.
With genomic medicine, you want to gain access to as much genetic material as possible. It’s all about database sharing. And that's one goal of the new European effort, a three-year project which channels money to, and links together, leading research centers in France, Spain, and Germany.
"With access to cell therapy models and unique patient cohorts, this consortium brings together unique and complimentary resources that will enable it to conduct cutting-edge studies to determine how genetic factors, the immune system, and the microbiome interact together to develop Crohn's disease," said Jim O'Sullivan, program director of the Helmsley Charitable Trust's IBD and Crohn's Disease Program.
The new effort is one more example of how Helmsley pushes collaboration, which it sees as a key to making breakthroughs in the growing fight against IBD.