The grant was awarded to further build on recent research led by Dr Konstantinos Gerasimidis and his team looking into a practical alternative to the commonly used liquid-only diet treatment for Crohn’s disease, also known as exclusive enteral nutrition (EEN).
The team of researchers, in collaboration with doctors at NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde (NHSGGC), developed ‘CD-TREAT’ (Crohn’s Disease TReatment with EATing), which uses everyday foods to achieve the same gut microbiome changes as those seen in treatment with EEN.
The researchers recently published their findings in the world’s highest ranked journal for gut diseases and their treatment, Gastroenterology.
Crohn’s disease is a chronic, debilitating condition of the gastrointestinal tract which can lead to diarrhoea, blood in stools, abdominal pain, weight loss and growth failure.
The administration of EEN liquid-only diet for eight weeks is an established method for inducing remission in children with Crohn’s disease.
EEN is successful in around 80 per cent of patients but is very restrictive and often requires feeding directly to the stomach, using a tube via the nose.
Difficulty adhering to this diet, particularly for adults, is the biggest barrier for use of EEN as an induction dietary therapy.
Using a carefully designed meal plan, which includes foods such as chicken and rice soup, salmon and mashed potatoes, the scientists were able to show that CD-TREAT changes the gut microbiome composition and function in healthy people and in animals with gut inflammation, in a similar way to EEN.
In a different part of the study three out of five children with active Crohn’s Disease treated in a CD-TREAT pilot entered complete remission on the alternative food-based diet and their gut inflammation decreased.
The healthy adult participants in the trial reported that CD-TREAT was easier to comply with, and more satiating than EEN.
Dr Gerasimidis, senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow, said: “We are delighted to receive more than $1.1 million in funding from Helmsley.
“This will enable us to further our important research into more tolerable treatments for Crohn’s disease and to understand their mechanism of action.
“We are optimistic that the clinical effect of CD-TREAT will be replicated in larger studies and will compare well with other mainstream drug therapies.
“If these initial findings are replicated, doctors, nurses and dietitians will be able to decrease or replace potentially harmful and expensive drugs and even avoid surgery, for at least some patients.
“All of these have clear implications for improving the quality of life of patients with Crohn’s disease.”
Shefali Soni, PhD, Crohn’s Disease Program Officer of the Helmsley Charitable Trust, said: “Until a cure is found, Helmsley’s Crohn’s Disease Program is committed to improving patients’ everyday lives.
“Diet is one of the key environmental factors that shapes our gut microbiota and our efforts to find better treatments for patients include dietary interventions.
“The team at the University of Glasgow is exploring a potentially transformative therapy by creating a solid food-based version of the well-known EEN.”