Improving digestive health by combining clinical and basic research
We bring an interdisciplinary approach to improving digestive health by incorporating the strengths of many diverse scientific perspectives and methods including diet and nutrition, understanding bacterial action, underlying biology, inflammation, and infection.
If you are interested in postgraduate research with our group:
Bacteria in the pathogenesis of gastrointestinal disease
The gastrointestinal tract is inhabited by a multitude of microorganisms, the so-called microbiota. The microbiota is established during birth and is involved in many physiological processes such as digestion and immune system function. The microbiota changes over time, and not all microorganisms are commensal or non-pathogenic; in some cases, they can cause inflammation and disease.
Key research interests:
- Epithelial permeability, inflammation, and DNA damage caused by Gram-negative bacteria membrane vesicles
- Influence of diet on bacterial phenotype and host response
Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis
Both diseases are chronic, severe inflammatory diseases. In ulcerative colitis, ulcers form in the lining of the colon and rectum. In Crohn’s disease, the inflammation can involve the complete digestive tract and deeper layers. Common symptoms are diarrhea and bleeding, abdominal pain and weight loss. Both diseases can be life-threatening.
Key research interests:
- Host-pathogen interactions in the gut (and how these relate to chronic gut diseases)
- Intestinal inflammatory biomarkers
- Nutrition and dietary management of inflammatory bowel diseases
Functional gastrointestinal disorders
Functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID) are common and chronic conditions of the gastrointestinal system without obvious signs of inflammation. While they are not life threatening, they can have a large impact on wellbeing. Functional gastrointestinal disorders are complex, with no clear cause. The most common disorders are functional dyspepsia, functional constipation, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Key research interests:
- Nutritional treatment of constipation symptoms
- Systems biology investigation of functional constipation and constipation-predominant IBS
- Prevalence of diarrhoea-predominant FGID and dietary management
Hepatitis C and autoimmune liver diseases
Hepatitis C is a virus causing liver inflammation. It is spread through blood. If untreated, it can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. Hepatitis C can be successfully treated with antiviral medication.
There are three main classes of autoimmune liver diseases:
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis – progressive disease that scars the bile ducts
- Primary biliary cholangitis – the progressive destruction of the small bile ducts
- Autoimmune hepatitis – the inflammation of liver cells caused by the body’s immune system
Volunteers wanted for research study
If you are aged between 18 and 65 years old, you may want to help us study the impact of dietary fibre in bread on your gut.
This research aims to generate results for the effect of dietary fibre in bread on the gut function. We are looking at different aspects of your everyday life and how they may affect your gut as well as other health and wellbeing outcomes over time.
We are looking to recruit people who are generally healthy with low fibre intake, willing to replace their routine bread with study bread, to be part of this trial. This research is important as there is little knowledge about how different fibre in bread affects gut function.
This study involves filling out questionnaires about your current mental and physical health, clinical and demographic variables, keeping food diaries, ingesting a diagnostic device in a capsule form (for a small number of participants only), drinking blue food dye and eating bread. We will be collecting some samples (blood and stool) multiple times over the course of 15 weeks. There will be 6 meetings with the research team for 30–60 minutes during the study.
Your help will be compensated with a $20 petrol voucher for the initial meeting, and a total of $300 supermarket vouchers if you decide to participate.
For more details, contact:
This project has been reviewed and approved by the University of Otago Human Ethics Committee (Health). Reference: H22/061
Richard is Professor, Head of the Department of Medicine, and Consultant Gastroenterologist at Christchurch Hospital. His research interests include Luminal Gastroenterology, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Coeliac Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Colorectal Cancer.
He is also the Medical Director, New Zealand Nutrition Foundation, and the Medical Advisor, Crohn’s and Colitis New Zealand.
Professor Day is a paediatric gastroenterologist. His research interests include Inflammatory Bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and Coeliac disease, with projects focusing upon host-pathogen interactions in the gut (and how these relate to chronic gut diseases), intestinal inflammatory biomarkers, and nutritional aspects of gut diseases.
Associate Professor Stedman's field of research is liver disease and pharmacology, focusing on hepatitis C and autoimmune liver diseases. Her published papers in hepatitis C epidemiology have influenced global understanding of chronic hepatitis C epidemiology including government and Ministry of Health understanding and approach to hepatitis C treatment strategies.
Associate Professor Keenan's research is centred on the role of bacteria in the pathogenesis of gastrointestinal disease. She is particularly interested in the ability of outer membrane vesicles shed from the surface of Gram-negative bacteria to induce epithelial permeability, inflammation, and DNA damage. Another interest is the influence of diet on bacterial phenotype and host response.
Catherine is a clinical and research dietitian. Her broad area of research interest is diet and nutrition in gastrointestinal diseases and disorders. She is particularly interested in nutrition and dietary treatments for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Simone is a laboratory-trained scientist with a background in nutrition science and expertise in clinical research. Her current focus is on functional gastrointestinal diseases, specifically irritable bowel syndrome, and on the interaction between microbiota and the immune system in the gastrointestinal system.