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The GEM Project


A GEM of a Project

Of all the medical research funded by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada (CCFC), one of the “jewels” is the Genetics, Environmental, Microbial project, otherwise known as GEM. Launched in 2008 and led by Dr. Ken Croitoru (University of Toronto) and his team of researchers from across the country, GEM seeks to find the answers about the causes of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

This multi-year, multi-million dollar project will investigate the theory that genetic predisposition, environmental influences and microbial interactions combine to stage events that lead to the development of Crohn’s disease (CD).

In order to accomplish this, researchers set up have subject recruitment sites in more than two dozen locations across Canada, and have currently enrolled about 2,500 people. Two sites have also been established in the United States (Rhode Island and Connecticut), and there is a potential of expanding to Israel, where the benefits could be considerable given the high rate of CD in that population.

GEM Project Coordinators are constantly creating new and inventive ways of attracting more subjects to this study. For example, travelling clinics (particularly helpful in rural areas), advertising and communication with gastrointestinal clinics are all helping increase recruitment.

Ideally the GEM project would like to recruit a total of 5,000 subjects who are considered to be at “high risk” for developing CD. “High risk” individuals are siblings or children of people with IBD. To be eligible to enroll in the study, you must be between six and 35 years of age. If you fit these criteria and have not yet enrolled in the GEM study, please go to www.gemproject.ca for more information. Your participation in GEM could be the breakthrough that researchers are looking for!

How does the study work

During the course of the study it is anticipated that some of the healthy subjects will develop CD. When this occurs, biologic samples are taken from the individual (for example, blood and stool samples) and the results are compared to the original test results obtained when the person first enrolled. The test results are also compared to those of people who have NOT developed CD (otherwise known as “healthy controls”) but match the newly diagnosed person in factors such as age, gender, geographic location and length of time in the study.

Once the healthy controls are identified, additional data is collected and compared in a number of areas such as whether or not they were breast-fed and for how long; what age cereal was introduced to their diet; and what kind of pets they have or had in their life.

To date, several subjects have developed CD and others are being investigated as “possible”. While this is bad news for those who have “converted” during the study, these individuals could hold the keys that will help GEM researchers unlock the secrets of IBD.

To find out more about GEM, or to enroll in this important research, please go to www.gemproject.ca.