Recommendations range from understanding the basic biology of the digestive system to developing diagnostic methods.

The NIH released the first long-range plan for tackling digestive diseases. Opportunities and Challenges in Digestive Diseases Research: Recommendations of the National Commission on Digestive Diseases describes the impact of diseases ranging from food-borne infections to cancer and liver failure and maps out priorities for research over the next 10 years.

The 16 appointed members of the commission represent academic and medical research, healthcare professionals, and patient-advocacy groups. The commission also includes 18 nonvoting ex officio members from the NIH and other federal agencies conducting digestive diseases research.

The report emphasizes the importance of multidisciplinary research to advance understanding of causes and improve diagnosis and treatment of digestive diseases. The goals recommended by the commission include:
•  Better understanding of basic biology of the digestive system
•  Improving the understanding of functional gastrointestinal disorders and motility disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome
•  Identifying additional infection-causing microbes
•  Developing more efficient tools to predict and detect cancers
•  Developing objective criteria to diagnose and evaluate inflammatory bowel diseases based on comprehensive genetic studies
•  Developing new treatment strategies for intestinal failure and regeneration, nutritional disorders and support, surgically modified gut (altered stomach following bariatric surgery for weight loss), and transplantation
•  Understanding the neuromuscular biology of diseases of the oropharynx and esophagus
•  Improving treatments for the diverse diseases of the stomach and small intestine
•  Developing more efficient ways to categorize diseases of the colon and rectum
•  Identifying the biologic and genetic triggers for acute and chronic pancreatitis
•  Testing new approaches to detect, prevent, and treat diseases of the liver and biliary system
•  Using bioengineering, biotechnology, and imaging to improve patient outcomes and treatments

Digestive diseases reportedly affect about 70 million annually and cost $100 billion in direct medical costs every year. Former NIH director Elias A. Zerhouni thus established this commission in 2005 to review current and needed research on digestive diseases.

“NIH-funded research has led to tremendous discoveries in peptic ulcer disease, viral hepatitis, and colorectal cancer,” notes Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “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. Of course, bringing in new investigators and utilizing NIH’s peer review system to identify projects with high scientific merit will continue to be high priorities.”

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