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International study designed to find cause of Crohn's disease

April 4, 2014

Why do some people who are genetically at risk for Crohn’s Disease eventually get the devastating condition, while others with the same genetic make-up remain healthy? Getting to the root cause of what triggers Crohn’s is increasingly driving researchers to better  understand the fundamental interactions between genetics, environment and a person’s microbial make-up, the bacteria that live in our bodies. 

This is exactly the focus the Genetics, Environmental, Microbial (GEM) Project,  a major international study being led by Mount Sinai Hospital’s Dr. Ken Croitoru. As the first study of its kind designed to identify the cause of Crohn’s disease, the GEM Project recently received the largest single donation in Canadian history dedicated to Crohn’s research; $6 million dollar gift from the Helmsley Charitable Trust Fund and a further $4 million financial commitment from Crohn’s and Colitis Canada.

Affecting an estimated 130,000 Canadians, Crohn’s is a devastating form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). It’s a chronic disease of the digestive system that often develops during the prime of people’s lives, and requires patients to have multiple surgeries in the bowel, long-term medication plans and daily lifestyle management. Because chances of Crohn’s increase with family history, the GEM Project will follow thousands of at risk individuals in Canada, US and Israel, whose close relatives have the disease.  By looking at family members when they are healthy and then after when they get the disease, researchers will determine the ways in which a person’s genetics, environment, and individual microbial make-up change and interact in the development of the disease. “We need to better understand its root causes, so that we can improve outcomes and how we might tailor treatments based on an individual genetic and microbial make up,” says Dr. Croitoru. To date the GEM project has recruited more than 2,800 participants and the new infusion of funds will help the project reach 5,000 recruits.

Dr. Croitoru

Dr. Ken Croitoru is leading the largest study of its kind designed to identify the cause of Crohn's disease, a chronic disease of the digestive system that affects an estimated 130,000 Canadians.

Dr.  Croitoru is part of a world leading Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) clinical and research team at Mount Sinai Hospital and the Zane Cohen Centre (ZCC), the hospital’s research centre for digestive diseases. With the largest, most comprehensive multidisciplinary team of IBD physicians and researchers, Mount Sinai is the tertiary referral centre for the most complex IBD cases in Ontario and the ideal home base for the GEM project. Close to 5000 patients, mostly with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis come to Mount Sinai for care, allowing physicians and researchers to work together with patients to discover new models of care and prevention strategies, a terrific example of translating research into clinical care.

For more information on the GEM project or to participate in the study visit