Findings published in Gastroenterology

Nov. 26, 2013

(Calgary, Alberta) November 26, 2013… Myrna Fink was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in the early 1970s. At that time, medical treatments were limited and many patients with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease would have to undergo surgery to control their symptoms. Flash forward to 2012, Myrna’s 27 year old son, Blair, was diagnosed with the same condition. However, his outlook isn’t as daunting. Blair’s battle with Crohn’s disease will look significantly different than his mother’s, and ultimately may never require surgery.

Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions researcher, Alexandra Frolkis, from the University of Calgary, has recently been published in the latest edition of the prestigious journal Gastroenterology. Alexandra, along with her mentor, Dr. Gilaad Kaplan, has shown that management of IBD has evolved over the past 50 years such that those diagnosed with IBD today will have a dramatically different future than those who were diagnosed as little as twenty years ago.

“Ultimately, what the publication shows is that over the decades, the risk of surgery for IBD patients has decreased,” says Frolkis. “Alongside this decrease in surgery risk is that treatments for IBD have significantly improved. Novel therapies, treatment protocols, and a better understanding of IBD are likely contributing to less invasive outcomes for people who are diagnosed with IBD today.” Frolkis’ publication clearly shows that treatment for IBD over the decades has improved so that the need for surgery is diminishing.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, corticosteroids were one of the only treatment options for IBD sufferers. Ultimately, those with IBD would have to undergo surgery where portions of their inflamed bowel were removed. Myrna Fink underwent three surgeries of this nature during her battle with IBD. Through the 1980s and 1990s the use of immune suppressing drugs for IBD became more commonly prescribed, which helped keep patients out of surgery. Then, in the 2000s, a new class of drugs called biologics came into common practice for IBD patients resulting in a reduction in the numbers of patients requiring surgery. The future appears to be brighter for those suffering with IBD as new classes of drugs are currently in clinical testing. The expectation is once they’re approved and in common usage, even fewer surgical interventions should be necessary.

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Alexandra Frolkis is supported by Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions (AIHS) in the MD / PhD program. She is a contributing member in the Alberta IBD Consortium, also supported by AIHS. Alexandra is enrolled in the Leaders in Medicine Program at the University of Calgary, allowing highly motivated students to complete a graduate and medical program degree concurrently. Alexandra is supervised by Dr. Gil Kaplan who is a gastroenterologists specializing in the management of IBD. Dr. Kaplan is an Associate Professor and a clinician-scientist in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Calgary. He is an Alberta-Innovates Health-Solutions Population Health Investigator and a Canadian Institutes of Health Research New Investigator.

The publication is titled: Risk of Surgery for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases Has Decreased Over Time: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Population Based Studies and can be found in this edition of Gastroenterology.

November is Crohn’s and Colitis awareness month. Approximately 25 thousand Albertans have IBD. 200,000 Canadians suffer from IBD and around 9 thousand new cases are added each year. IBD is more prevalent than Multiple sclerosis and HIV. Annual costs to employers, individuals, and society in general are around $1.8 billion. Annually, $753 million is spent on direct costs associated with the health care system including surgeries, hospitalization, medication, and physician visits.

The Alberta IBD Consortium is a team of clinical doctors and research scientists with a mission to improve the lives of inflammatory bowel disease patients and their families and reduce the impact of IBD on the health system by better understanding the causes and determinants of IBD. Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions and Alberta Health provide up to $5 million dollars over five years to teams like the Alberta IBD Consortium who are looking to make a difference in the lives of Albertans.

Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions supports research and innovation activities to improve the health and wellbeing of Albertans and create, through innovation, health related social and economic benefits for Albertans. It provides leadership for Alberta’s health research and innovation enterprise by directing, coordinating, reviewing, funding and supporting research and innovation. For more information see: www.aihealthsolutions.ca.

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