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Pushing Scientific Boundaries

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation continues our commitment to finding a cure for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), awarding 15 new research grants totaling $1.5 million in July and hosting our second annual Innovations Symposium on Stress Responses, Inflammation and Disease in mid-July. Read more about our Innovator and Breakthrough Awards for this year. Before I jump into the exciting details, I want to take a step back to give you a little background on what the Foundation is trying to achieve.

Our Health Program focuses on improving the diagnosis and treatment of IBD, with the ultimate goal of finding a cure for these devastating diseases. We recognize that this is an enormous challenge in scientific and practical terms. However, like our founder Kenneth Rainin, an indomitable entrepreneur, we believe that this can be accomplished by investing wisely in collaborative and innovative research projects that push the boundaries of mainstream IBD research.

We have established two complementary Health Programs to achieve this mission. Our Innovator and Breakthrough Awards fund innovative and collaborative IBD research projects, and our Innovations Symposium brings diverse groups of researchers together to encourage and facilitate scientific conversations. Many talented scientists work in isolation from the field of IBD. We want to reach those researchers and others, and provide an environment and support that encourages all scientists to start thinking about research areas outside of their respective fields.

Making the Connection to IBD

This year’s Innovations Symposium brought together a panel of leading authorities that took on the task of unraveling the complex pathways involved in cell stress response signaling and its relationship to chronic intestinal inflammation. Even though most of the research in these fields has been focused in areas outside of IBD, each speaker was tasked with connecting their line of research to the field of IBD. The Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) Members helped to facilitate interactive discussions with the speakers. What I found very interesting was that each talk alluded to the fact that there are a set of fundamental molecular pathways that allow a cell to sense and adapt to environmental and physiological challenges. When functioning properly, these pathways clear damaged cells and pathogens, thereby maintaining cellular homeostasis and the overall health of the organism. What became clear during the discussions was that intestinal cells utilize many of these pathways to adapt to the complex and dynamic changes in their environment as well, and if any of these signaling pathways go awry within the intestine, the result could be chronic inflammation that perpetuates the cycle of tissue destruction and disease.

Dr Richard Morimoto

Symposium speaker, Dr. Richard Morimoto, Northwestern University.

The Foundation is optimistic that events like our Symposium can play a key role in sparking new avenues of research to explore these novel pathways in the context of IBD, which could lead to the identification of new therapeutic targets and future IBD therapies. It was evident that the Symposium was doing just that when Speaker Dr. Gökhan S. Hotamisligil of Harvard University said, “I wouldn’t have connected these areas of research to IBD if I had not been invited to speak at this symposium.”

During the day there were many stimulating presentations and questions. Dr. Herbert W. Virgin of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, a Kenneth Rainin Foundation grantee and a speaker at the Symposium, captured the spirit of the Foundation’s and grantees’ efforts during his talk when he said, “There are many challenges in understanding, diagnosing, and curing complex genetic and environmental diseases like IBD, but we should set the scientific bar high for ourselves. If you set a low bar, you jump over it easily, but don’t really move things ahead. If you set a high bar, you may be injured trying to jump it, but sometimes you go over the top. That is what our patients need, large leaps in scientific advancement.” This is exactly what the Foundation hopes to inspire and achieve.

What’s in Store for Next Year

The Foundation’s 2014 Innovations Symposium, Taming the Microbiome, will be held in San Francisco in early June. Because we also set a high bar for ourselves at the Foundation, we are going to make the 2014 Symposium even better based on the feedback we received from this year’s event. We are planning to expand the Symposium to two days and will include presentations from our current grantees along with our keynote speakers. In addition, the meeting format will encourage even more interaction between the participants and the speakers to enable better connections to what this all means for IBD. I will keep you posted on my blog on any interesting developments as we plan our meeting or you can visit the Symposium website for more details. I also invite you to view the photo gallery from the 2013 event.

A Word of Thanks

On behalf of the Foundation, I want to thank the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board for their leadership and participation in this year’s Innovations Symposium and for their diligent review of the funding applications we received. They spend countless hours on ensuring that the Symposium meets our goals and that our grants support innovative ideas. It’s a pleasure to work with such an esteemed group of scientists who care so deeply about our mission and are fully committed to finding a cure for IBD.

Kimberly Krivacic, Ph.D.
Program Officer, Health

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Top photo – From left to right, Kenneth Rainin Foundation Grantees: Dr. Eran Elinav, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, Israel; Dr. Dan Peer, Tel Aviv University, Israel; Guest Speaker, Dr. Herbert W. Virgin, IV, Washington University School of Medicine,  St. Louis, Missouri; and Dr. Samuel L. Miller, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.

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