Research Engagement and ImpactNothing going to waste - Flinders NIH Success
Waste not, want not is a guiding principle between Flinders Medical Centre (FMC) surgeons and Flinders’ researchers, Professor Simon Brookes and Associate Professor Phil Dinning, College of Medicine and Public Health. In a globally unique collaborative partnership, patients can opt for their intestinal tissue removed during elective surgery at FMC to be used for basic research by Simon and Phil's research groups.
The team are looking at nerve function and how to create new effective treatments for a variety of bowel conditions. Professor David Wattchow, a consultant surgeon in FMC, has collaborated with Simon and Phil for many years in a wide variety of research projects. He has made arrangements so that tissue can be picked up from operating theatres and taken to the laboratory within minutes. FMC is one of few places in the world where this occurs.
This unique partnership has now led to Simon and Phil achieving international grant success. The pair were approached to participate in a consortium grant under the Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions (SPARC) program for the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). The SPARC program is a new scheme which encourages consortium bids and rewards research designed to lead to new real-world treatments.
"For the last thirty years, researchers have been studying the nerves that control the gut largely in laboratory animals. Professor Wattchow has had a huge influence on our work by making it possible to study human gut tissue that would otherwise go to waste." said Simon.
To understand how nerves in the gut can be activated to lead to new treatments, Simon studies nerve pathways and their actions. Phil studies movement of the colon in both human volunteers and surgical specimens of gut. They work alongside Marcello Costa, Nick Spencer and Taher Omari in a large collaboration based in the Centre for Neuroscience. The combination of theory, experimental and real world testing aims to establish a full picture of types of gut nerves, their location, their dimensions and their function, providing a foundation for effective pain and illness management.
"For the past 15 years, nerve pathways have been stimulated in patients with surgically implanted electrical stimulators to treat urinary urgency, incontinence and faecal incontinence. This technology has also been trialled as a treatment for constipation. Yet, how it works remains unknown," said Phil.
"We want to find out what nerve stimulation can be used as treatment for. We want to know where the nerves are, how far they go, what they do, so that we can work on new methods of stimulation systematically, rather than having one company set up a device for bladder control and another one for bowel problems," said Simon.
The consortium consists of groups from University of California Los Angeles, CALTECH, Universities of Nevada (USA) and Munich (Germany). The groups are looking at different aspects of neural pathways in the colon. The consortium aims to develop new therapeutic treatments, and additionally, are hoping their insights will influence future studies, including a greater understanding of the relationship between animal and human studies.
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