Dr. Johan Van Limbergen

Dr. Johan Van Limbergen

Dr. Johan Van Limbergen

Inflammation, Infection & Immunity, Molly Appeal

Intestinal bugs and IBD:

We each carry a thousand or more species of bacteria in our guts—most beneficial, some with potential to harm. Pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Johan Van Limbergen wants to know more about these bacteria—known as the gut microbiome—and how they influence development, progression and recovery in Crohn’s disease.

“We’re developing technologies and partnerships at Dalhousie to explore not just the gut bacteria, but their genes and how they interact with each other and the immune system in Crohn’s and other inflammatory diseases,” says Dr. Van Limbergen, an assistant professor in Dalhousie’s departments of Pediatrics and Microbiology & Immunology.

Genetics only explains about 15 to 20 per cent of the risk of getting Crohn’s disease. “There are no other proven risk factors, but we believe immune problems in the gut and a disordered microbiome are associated with the development of Crohn’s disease,” Dr. Van Limbergen says. “Resting the gut with a liquid formula diet resolves symptoms for 90 per cent of kids within 12 weeks, but some require immune-modulating drugs or even surgery to get better.”

The types and relative numbers of gut bacteria vary from person to person, creating a unique “microbiome signature.” By analyzing patients’ gut microbiomes—before, during and after treatment—Dr. Van Limbergen and his collaborators believe they can identify patterns that will help them predict which patients will do best with which treatments. Not only would this allow for personalized treatment and speedier healing, it would open the door to potential new treatments based on restoring the gut microbiome to a healthier balance.

Dr. Van Limbergen and fellow IWK gastroenterologist, Dr. Anthony Otley, are involved in a multi-centre Canadian microbiome study of probiotics, prebiotics, fecal transplants and other therapeutic strategies for Crohn’s. Locally, he’s working with Dal’s internationally known microbial genomics researchers, including Dr. Morgan Langille, a microbiome researcher with expertise in computer science and bioinformatics, on a detailed analysis of the gut microbiome in Crohn’s. Some of the funds raised through Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation’s 2016-17 Molly Appeal will help the researchers develop powerful new software tools to analyze billions of bacteria and shed light on the healing potential of the microbiome.

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