Gut pain affects more than 15% of the world’s population and few treatments are available.
Led by Flinders University Associate Professor Stuart Brierley, the Head of Visceral Pain Research Group based at the SA Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), the research focuses on the changes that occur within the sensory nerves and central nervous system to enable a more targeted approach to gut pain treatments – without the serious side effects.
This work has been acknowledged in the annual National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Research Excellence Awards announced in Canberra last week. The awards recognised the top 23 health and medical researchers from around Australia.
Associate Professor Brierley was commended by his peers as being the top ranked NHMRC R.D. Wright Biomedical Fellow (Level II) in the 2016 round, for his novel translational work investigating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in particular.
“Chronic pain is a major but under-appreciated clinical issue affecting more than1.5 billion people globally. IBS and IBD are leading causes of chronic pain but lack effective therapies,” Associate Professor Brierley says.
While the gut can react to a range of factors from stress to chemical irritants or spicy food, the cause of chronic visceral pain needs to be linked back to the “key mediators, receptors and ion channels” and how to reduce or reduce this sensory system with new treatments.
“I am really excited about helping people to overcome chronic pain and gut pain through my work,” Associate Professor Brierley says.
“My vision is to further develop my research group into a world-leading team that identifies the novel molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying chronic visceral pain.”
Associate Professor Brierley, who is also a Matthew Flinders Research Fellow in Gastrointestinal Neuroscience, recently presented on one of these latest treatment breakthroughs in the US.
The NRMRC funded Visceral Pain Research Group has worked with international industry partner Ironwood Pharmaceuticals to develop a new drug, linaclotide, for patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Constipation (IBS-C).
Linaclotide, a guanylate cyclase-C (GC-C) agonist, is effective in relieving abdominal pain associated with IBS-C and is available and registered for use by IBS-C patients in the USA and Europe.
Associate Professor Brierley also has contributed to a recent article in the international journal Cell (22 June 2017) which discusses the work of the enterochromaffin (EC) cells in the gut lining responsible for alerting the nervous system and producing key reactions for a healthy nervous system – including serotonin for mental well-being.
Along with 60 papers (and more than 2,800 citations, H-index 29), he has published in high-ranking journals including Nature, Nature Communications, Gastroenterology, Gut and the Journal of Neuroscience.
Among the specialised research projects is investigations into the use of the ‘Hm1a’ spider venom and marine cone snail (Conus victoriae), to reduce pain responses among IBS patients.
The NHMRC awards are recognition from their scientist peers as meeting the highest national and international standards for their selected area of medical research.
The NHMRC Rising Star Award went to another SAHMRI researcher, Flinders Associate Professor James Ward, who is using health service and public health interventions for sexually transmissible infections (STIs), HIV and viral hepatitis.to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Associate Professor Ward, a Pitjantjatjara and Nurrunga man, is the Head of Infectious Diseases Research Program-Aboriginal Health at SAHMRI and a Matthew Flinders Research Fellow at Flinders University.
Associate Professor Ward also has a strong track record in producing research outcomes including more than 85 publications, as well as many other technical and non-peer reviewed articles. He has led national research projects in areas such as STIs and blood borne viruses, including issues surrounding injecting drug use.
Each year, NHMRC provides over $800 million in funding for medical research in Australia. More information about the awards, the winners and their contributions to medical research will be located on the NHMRC website.
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