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Digestive Disease Commission Urges 'Omics Research

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A number of research areas, including genomics and other molecular biology studies, will be needed if researchers are to better understand and aggressively deal with the digestive diseases that strike worldwide, according to the recommendations of a National Institutes of Health Panel released Thursday.

The National Commission on Digestive Diseases, which was chartered in 2005 by NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, outlined a number of areas of need, including broad research areas and a number of disease-specific programs. The plan is supposed to outline the program areas that NIH will pursue and support, which include a variety of genomic, metagenomic, and biomarker studies, bioimaging advancement, and a number of other specific needs.

The commission was designed to tackle the future approach to diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatic diseases, digestive system cancers, stomach and small intestine diseases, and others.

"To build on these advances and break new ground, we'll be looking for investigator-initiated projects and developing new initiatives that respond to the commission's recommendations," Griffin Rodgers, who is director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, said in a statement.

"The commission's recommendations provide a guidepost for digestive diseases research to be addressed over the next decade," added NIDDK Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition Director Stephen James. "We hope that this broad-based research plan leads to new findings that help reduce the pain and suffering experienced by the millions who suffer from digestive diseases."

The committee advises conducting more metagenomic analysis of the microbes in the human colon, and gaining a better understanding of the bacterial products, enzymes, and compounds that can help elucidate the role of bacteria in intestinal diseases. There also should be studies of how microbes and hosts interact, and analysis of genome sequences from colonic bacteria in order to identify gene transfer events by using advanced computational methods, it said.

The committee advises starting metagenomic analysis of the microflora of healthy people and determining the extent of person-to-person or diet-related variation.

It also suggests that researchers develop a comprehensive understanding of the intestinal microbiome and the effect of the host genome on microbial colonization, as well as the consequences of interactions between gastrointestinal pathogens and normal gut microflora.

Another goal should be to develop high-throughput genomic and proteomic facilities to complement the Cancer Genome Anatomy Project in order to profile digestive tract cancers and their subtypes, said the commission. It also said that researchers should aim to discover biomarkers and surrogate markers for digestive diseases in order to improve the efficiency of clinical trials, which potentially could lead to improvements in clinical care.

More information about the NIH commission's report is available here.