Discovery fuels innovation
Dr. Bernstein’s research transforms IBD patient care here and around the world
Affecting one in every 150 Canadians, our country is home to one of the highest rates of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in the world. That’s substantial. The causes of IBD are surprisingly still unknown, and current treatments are often ineffective for many who suffer from the disease.
University of Manitoba alumnus Dr. Charles Bernstein has made it his life’s work to challenge this reality.
For 25 years, the Distinguished Professor in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, Max Rady College of Medicine, and Director of the University of Manitoba Inflammatory Bowel Disease Clinical and Research Centre has been looking for answers.
Although previous studies were mainly done on a case-by-case basis at the cellular level, Bernstein pioneered a different approach in IBD research—a larger, more comprehensive approach through which he and his team have made new discoveries.
“We had an opportunity to sample and understand an entire population,” says Bernstein. “The first major contribution was to define the number of people in Manitoba with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and the number of new people being diagnosed in any one year.”
Because Manitoba Health has maintained unique records for every provincial resident with a personal health identification number since 1984, Bernstein was able to use these records to track diagnosis of IBD. This allowed him to accurately calculate the impact of the disease in the province.
Bernstein and his team were able to draw other conclusions as well. For example, which cancers are more prevalent in IBD patients, that they have an increased risk of developing lymphoma, that they have a higher rate of breaking bones or developing deep vein thrombosis.
In addition, Bernstein and his team were able to assess a potential connection between mental health and IBD. They saw how depression and anxiety contribute to how the disease develops, as well as how it flares up once IBD is already present.
“As an example, in two studies we found that people with inflammatory bowel disease are significantly more likely to have a diagnosis of depression several years before the onset of IBD,” says Bernstein. “Maybe there’s something biologically about depression that may put them at risk. It enhances our interest in what we call the brain-gut axis—the important connection between how the brain controls what goes on in our gut and in return, how the gut impacts our brain and how we feel.”
The development and maintenance of this database––which is among the largest validated population-based databases for IBD in North America––has become the basis for the IBD Clinical and Research Centre at the U of M, establishing Bernstein as an international leader in IBD research. He continues to lead a multi-disciplinary research team that examines trends and other risk factors of the disease at the population, individual and cellular levels. It is these discoveries that translate to his personal clinical practice and drive more innovative patient care.
Bernstein says that a cure for IBD won’t be possible until the causes of it are known.
“The importance of our group’s research is to continue to study the entire population of Manitobans who have IBD,” says Bernstein. “As the population ages and changes through immigration, there will likely be different patterns of disease and that will also help us understand how this disease is developing.”
Research funding for Dr. Charles Bernstein’s work is provided by the Bingham Chair in Gastroenterology, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, National Institutes of Health Research (US) and Research Manitoba.