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Gastrointestinal Unit for Translational Studies (GUTS)

Kōpiro Whekori

Improving digestive health by combining clinical and basic research

GUTS logo 650

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.

Contact us

Email fran.barret@otago.ac.nz

Volunteers wanted: Participate in our digestive health research study

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GUTS pipetting image 2021

Research

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

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Study participants

Volunteers wanted for constipation and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) research

Kiwifruit on a plate with spoon thumbHave you or a whānau member been diagnosed with constipation or constipation-predominant IBS?

If you are aged between 18 and 65 years old, you may want to help us to study a natural treatment for constipation and IBS. This research aims to generate results for the effect of kai/food on the treatment of gut issues. We will look at different aspects of your everyday life and how they may affect your puku/tummy as well as treatment outcomes over time.

We are looking to recruit people who have constipation and constipation-predominant IBS to be part of this trial. This research is very important as there is very little knowledge about how kai affects constipation and IBS.

The study involves undergoing two magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, ingesting a diagnostic device in a capsule form (SmartPill®, Atmo gas capsule) and blue food dye, filling out questionnaires about your current mental and physical health, clinical and demographic variables, keeping food diaries, and eating kiwifruit or maltodextrin. We will be collecting some samples (blood and faeces) multiple times over the course of 9 weeks. There will be 3 meetings with the research team for 30–60 minutes during the study.

Your mahi/help will be compensated with a $20 petrol voucher for the initial meeting, and a total of $200 in supermarket vouchers if you decide to participate.

For more details, contact:

KINGS Research team
Email HVN.GIstudies@gmail.com
Tel +64 21 279 1519

This project has been reviewed and approved by the HDEC. Reference: NZ/21/NTB/96

GUTS screening image 2021

Our people

Principal Investigators

Professor Richard Gearry

Richard Gearry image 2021 GUTSRichard 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.

Email richard.gearry@otago.ac.nz

Professor Andrew Day

Andrew Day image 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.

Email andrew.day@otago.ac.nz

Associate Professor Catherine Stedman

Catherine Stedman image 2021 GUTSAssociate 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.

Email catherine.stedman@cdhb.health.nz

Associate Professor Jacqui Keenan

Jacqui Keenan imageAssociate 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.

Email jacqui.keenan@otago.ac.nz

Research Fellows

Dr Catherine Wall

Catherine Wall image 2021 GUTSCatherine 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.

Email catherine.wall@otago.ac.nz

Dr Simone Bayer

Simone Bayer image 2021 GUTSSimone 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.

Email simone.bayer@otago.ac.nz