European Researchers Form Network to Study the Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

A multidisciplinary research project aims to create a large IBS biobank and create uniform standards and guidelines to aid in the study of IBS and other functional GI disorders.

Researchers from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenberg, the Karolinska Institutet, and other institutions in 19 countries have formed an interdisciplinary network for the purposes of investigating the causes of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in order to improve the diagnosis and treatment of this chronic gastrointestinal disorder that affects millions of people worldwide.

Funded by the European Science Foundation, the GENIEUR (Genes in Irritable Bowel Syndrome Europe) network will “identify genes and DNA variants that may contribute to increase one’s susceptibility to develop bowel symptoms,” according to a news release from the University of Gothenberg.

More than 70 research groups will participate in the GENIEUR network. Magnus Simren, MD, PhD, professor of gastroenterology in the Department of Internal Medicine and Clinical Nutrition at the Sahlgrenska Academy, said the goal of GENIEUR is “to use the knowledge of researchers with different expertise in order to solve the mystery of IBS.” Simren is co-Chair of the GENIEUR network and heads a research group that studies the mechanisms underlying the symptoms of IBS.

Mauro D’Amato, Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics, Karolinska Institutet Department of Biosciences and Nutrition, said “IBS is only modestly inherited, and there are so far very few examples of known predisposing genes. We need very large numbers of thoroughly-characterized patients in order to increase our chances to detect true genetic predisposing factors.” D’Amato is a member of the GENIEUR management committee and “leader of the team who discovered the involvement of TNFSF15 and NPSR1 genes in IBS.”

The GENIEUR website describes the project as a “pan-European interdisciplinary network to identify genetic factors (human genetics, epigenetics, metagenomics) contributing to IBS etiopathogenesis” that will bring together an interdisciplinary group of “clinicians specialized in functional GI disorders, immunology and psychiatry and basic scientists focusing on (epi-) genetics, microbiomics and phenotypic analysis of case-control cohorts.”

The GENIEUR network has identified several goals:

  • Standardization and harmonization of criteria for case-control definition and recruitment and IBS patient characterization
  • Establishing a phenotyping tool as gold standard for large-scale studies
  • Creation of a database collecting phenotypic data (standardized data of the phenotyping tool), exposure to environmental factors (exposure to certain germs, infection, gastroenteritis, microbiome data, nutrition) as well as genotypic/epigenetic data
  • Establishment of a biobank fostering a better data availability by collecting patient and control material (blood, tissue, stool) not only for genetic studies but also for analyses of functional / phenotypical consequences of coined genetic factors
  • Identification of (epi-)genetic risk factors for IBS

Accomplishing these will allow the project to “coin harmonized recruitment standards for phenotypic characterization as well as standard operating procedures (SOPs) and define guidelines” for IBS that can be “published in peer reviewed journals and implemented in a database as a central source of information for participating laboratories and clinics.” These will be important tools that allow “clinicians and basic researchers all over the world to perform uniform (epi-) genetic studies in functional GI disorders.”