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December 2010 Issue
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Gut research has new home

 Health Sciences

The University of Adelaide is now home to a group of researchers who are hoping to find cures and treatments for a range of digestive diseases.

The Nerve Gut Research Laboratory, once based at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, now sits within the School of Medicine and is focused on research into reflux disease, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, and appetite control.

Professor Ashley Blackshaw, a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Research Fellow, heads up the lab of approximately 25 researchers, who are working on some critical studies.

These include developing a drug to prevent reflux disease (build-up of acid in the stomach), which affects about 30% of people.

"As the title of our lab suggests, we are interested in the nervous system and how it affects the stomach," Professor Blackshaw said.

"Gastrointestinal disorders all involve interactions between the nerves and the gut and if we can change the way the stomach works it will help us to find a cure for these conditions."

Appetite regulation is another key research area. Associate Professor Amanda Page is looking at alternative treatments for controlling obesity.

"There are hormones that are released from the stomach which send signals to the brain when the stomach is full," Associate Professor Page said.

"In obese people, these signals are dimmed because the hormones lose their potency. Because they don't feel full, they eat more and it ends up in a vicious cycle."

Associate Professor Page is hoping to develop a drug that alters the stomach's nervous system and tells the brain it is full. This would be an alternative treatment to bariatric surgery, where the stomach is cut away, or gastric banding.

Irritable bowel syndrome, which affects 10% of people, is another area of the lab's focus.

"In this condition, patients are ultra sensitive to the contents of the gut, but if we can modify the signalling pathway from the bowel to the brain we may be able to find a breakthrough," Professor Blackshaw said.

The Nerve Gut Research Laboratory celebrates its 20th birthday in 2011.

Story by Candy Gibson

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