Stomaching the change to our understanding of IBS

Thursday, 13 July 2017


Researchers from the University of Newcastle (UON) are reframing the global understanding and treatment pathways for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) by urging practitioners to recognise that the condition is not just one disease, but in fact several or more.

Professor Nick Talley

A new review of IBS, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, highlights the uniqueness of the disease and the importance of recognising treatment should differ with each patient.

“There’s a strong tendency to just treat the symptoms of IBS as one disorder. We’re urging for it to be treated as multiple, as it’s an incredibly complex condition which differs with each case,” Laureate Professor Nick Talley said.

Professor Talley, Director of the Priority Research Centre for Digestive Health and Neurogastroenterology, is at the forefront of research into gut health, with his work playing a key role in reframing the understanding of IBS globally.

His team at the Hunter Medical Research Institute* are working to identify the various causes of IBS, which include triggers such as food intolerances, gut inflammation, bacteria such as spirochetes present in the colon, mental health disorders and even a certain gene.

Further to this, Professor Talley is world-renowned for his work identifying the unique pathways between brain-gut as well as the lesser studied gut-brain. Although the brain’s effect on the gut is widely accepted, the gut’s influence on the brain remains misunderstood.

“Only recently we’ve started to understand the complex nature of this relationship.

“Our research has shown many signals go up to the brain from the gut as well as from the brain to the gut. In fact, our studies have shown that in some sufferers of IBS, the gut appeared to get sick first and this led to brain dysfunction manifesting as anxiety, not the other way around,” he said.

Findings like these are key to the future identification and management of the disorder, but also highlight the lack of understanding which still surrounds the condition. The new review of IBS aims to bridge that gap.

“What’s significant about this review is that it recognises the complexity of the gut-brain relationship, which shows the thinking around IBS is changing. I’m very proud our team is playing a key role in that shift in perspective.

Professor Talley stressed that although the new publication is a significant step, there is still more work to be done.

“We’re working towards a goal of being able to totally cure the condition rather than just treat the symptoms.”

*HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.