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Digestive diseases

Digestive diseases encompass many disorders of gut health. The healthy gut communicates with the brain and lives in harmony with the many bacteria it contains.

Gut health disorders lead to diabetes and metabolic disease, inadequate nutrition, pain, poor digestion and liver disease.

Major digestive diseases include inflammatory bowel disease, chronic constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.

The extensive enteric nervous system, embedded in the gut wall, controls digestive functions. It is often referred to as "the second brain".

The embryonic enteric nervous system develops at the same time as the central nervous system

The ENS communicates with the brain and central nervous system, and disorders of the brain and gut commonly go together.

For example, gastrointestinal disorders are prominent in Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury and autism.
A major component of the endocrine hormone control system is embedded in the gut.

Gut hormones control appetite, digestion and energy metabolism. These hormones are treatment targets for obesity, diabetes and metabolic disease.

  • 80,000 Australians live with inflammatory bowel diseases

  • By 2022, numbers are expected to increase to more than 100,000

  • Hospital costs are in excess of $100 million per year nationally

How the Florey is Making a Difference

At the Florey we are developing new approaches to treating bowel diseases through electroceuticals.

This is an exciting new approach in which we stimulate nerves to treat disordered function.

We are also performing drug development and unravelling the basic mechanisms essential for digestive health.

Dr Martin Stebbing, Professor John Furness and Professor Robin McAllen lead our electroceuticals effort.

They will stimulate the vagus nerve to treat Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The program is funded by $6 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

We are also investigating electroceutical approaches to treat gastroparesis - a slowing of gut motility.

Dr Shanti Diwakarla is investigating the gastrointestinal complications of Parkinson’s Disease and possible therapies.

In drug development, Professor Furness, Dr Ruslan Pustovit, Dr Rachel McQuade and Dr Akhter Hossain are investigating novel targets to treat constipation.

In basic mechanisms, we are studying the roles of gut hormones and enteric nerves in diabetes. We also examine how nerves control gut inflammation, and ways of protecting the lining of the gut.

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