M E D I Z I N I S C H E   U N I V E R S I T T   G R A Z    /    M E D I C A L   U N I V E R S I T Y   O F   G R A Z
F O R S C H U N G S S C H W E R P U N K T / K E Y R E S E A R C H N E T W O R K
I G E S T I V E    I S E A S E S    A N D    C I E N C E S
Verdauung: von der Grundlagenforschung zur Therapie

 

Introduction, present status and future potential

Introduction

The Key Research Network "Digestive Diseases and Sciences" is an established "Forschungsschwerpunkt" of the Medical University of Graz. It was approved on 15 May 2002 by the Collegium of the Medical Faculty of the University of Graz, now being transformed into the Medical University of Graz.

The gut, hepatobiliary system and pancreas represent an integrated functional network whose essential task of digestion depends on a coordinated interplay between secretory and absorptive processes, motility and circulation. Derangement of one of these digestive processes is commonly associated with derangement of the other processes as well and, in addition, may result in overall discomfort and pain. Disorders of gastrointestinal (GI) function represent disease entities of enormous socio-economic impact and thus pose a major challenge to biomedical research.

The Key Research Network "Digestive Diseases and Sciences" involves a number of institutions at the Medical University of Graz that pursue research programmes ranging from the molecular and cellular aspects of GI regulation to the clinical management of various GI diseases. These programmes have attracted substantial funds from both academic agencies and industrial partners and have acquired additional expertise through collaboration with outside institutions of high international reputation.

The integration of all relevant institutions in a Key Research Network of Digestive Diseases and Sciences greatly strengthens the research and clinical potential of gastroenterology and its related disciplines. Such a gastroenterological competence centre makes a unique contribution to the university's overall research profile.

Present status

The gastroenterology-related research projects pursued at the Medical University of Graz identify several areas that are of central importance to an interactive Key Research Network of Digestive Diseases and Sciences.

Essential expertise is available in the following areas:

  1. Pathophysiology of diarrhoea induced by bacterial toxins, antibiotics and malabsorption;
     
  2. Intestinal barrier function: relevance to bacterial translocation and modification by drugs;
     
  3. Gastric and colonic microcirculation: control by sensory, autonomic and enteric neurons and relevance to mucosal injury;
     
  4. Inflammatory bowel disease: aetiology, diseases course and novel treatment modalities;
     
  5. Pathophysiology of experimental pancreatitis;
     
  6. Hepatobiliary transporter gene expression and function in liver, bile duct and intestine: molecular regulation and relevance to gastrointestinal diseases;
     
  7. Liver surgery and improved maintenance of liver function;
     
  8. Digestive diseases in children: gastro-oesophageal reflux and short-bowel syndrome;
     
  9. Gastro-oesophageal reflux: manifestations from the larynx to the stomach and novel treatment options;
     
  10. Enteric nervous system: analysis of transmitters, projections and functions in relation to chemical and immunological insults of the gastric mucosa;
     
  11. Intestinal peristalsis: regulation by enteric neurotransmitters and evaluation of novel prokinetic drugs;
     
  12. Intestinal motility in critically ill patients: analysis of the adverse effects of catecholamines and opiates on intestinal peristalsis;
     
  13. Gastroparesis in diabetic patients: long-term exploration and treatment options;
     
  14. Functional dyspepsia: experimental models and clinical realities;
     
  15. Abdominal nociception: molecular mechanisms of afferent neuron hypersensitivity and exploration of novel therapeutic targets.

Future potential

The integration of all relevant institutions in a Key Research Network of Digestive Diseases and Sciences has a significant impact on the research profile of the Medical University of Graz for a number of reasons:

(1) Taken as a whole, GI diseases are of a profound socio-economic impact and, because the current therapeutic options are limited, pose a major challenge to biomedical research.

(2) Normal digestion depends on a coordinated control of secretion, hepatic and pancreatic function, motility, absorption, circulation and elimination of useless or harmful materials. Since derangement of one of these digestive processes is commonly associated with derangement of the other processes as well, GI diseases can be understood only by a concerted investigation of digestive regulation at the molecular, cellular, tissue and organ level. Against this background it is essential to form a Key Research Network to pursue GI research in an integrated and meaningful fashion.

(3) The Key Research Network comprises research expertise in several important GI diseases. Joining forces enables the participating institutions to accelerate progress and to enhance the impact of their research on the understanding and treatment of digestive diseases. From the current research programmes it is evident that important milestones can be achieved in the research on:

  1. Diarrhoea of various aetiology;
  2. GI diseases related to barrier dysfunction and microcirculatory disturbances;
  3. Inflammatory bowel diseases and visceral inflammation;
  4. GI diseases related to a dysregulation of hepatobiliary transporter gene expression or impaired liver function;
  5. Paediatric bowel disorders;
  6. Gastro-oesophageal reflux;
  7. GI motility disorders of various aetiology;
  8. GI diseases related to a dysfunction of the enteric nervous system;
  9. Functional dyspepsia;
  10. GI hypersensitivity and pain;

(4) Of particular relevance to the success of the Key Research Network is a close integration of basic and clinical research. Clinical work identifies the medical problems to be solved and provides material to be examined by molecular, cellular and in vitro techniques. Only by this concerted action can mechanisms of GI disease be elucidated and new therapeutic strategies be recognized and developed.

(5) Establishment of a Key Research Network optimizes utilization of the gastroenterological expertise available within the Medical University of Graz, encourages the formation of interdisciplinary links, fosters new cooperations, broadens the methodological repertoire of the individual network partners through facilitated exchange of techniques and knowledge and ensures the efficient use of human, financial and other resources.

(6) Importantly, the Key Research Network significantly fosters the acquisition of new techniques, promotes the establishment of core facilities and expands the range of network expertise through collaboration with outside institutions of high international reputation.

(7) With its broad and interdisciplinary range of gastroenterological expertise, the Key Research Network attracts additional funding by governmental agencies and industrial partners with a GI disease R&D programme.

(8) The Key Research Network of Digestive Diseases and Sciences creates a digestive disease competence centre that makes a unique contribution to the University's research profile.

 

P. Holzer, 04/2003