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Symposium Takes the Pulse of IBD Research

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation hosted our fifth annual Innovations Symposium, “Emerging IBD Strategies,” in San Francisco in late July. Scientific leaders, trainees, researchers and clinicians from around the world attended the conference, which provides a platform to collaborate and draw inspiration from colleagues to move Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) research forward. It also allows the Foundation to take the pulse of the state of the field and explore additional ways we can support and accelerate IBD research.

Researchers from a variety of fields presented their work and ideas during our digital poster sessions.

Researchers from a variety of fields presented their work and ideas during our digital poster sessions.

As a newcomer to the Foundation and the world of IBD, for me this was a scientific meeting like no other. We were able to talk more about the Foundation’s newest ventures—taking a deeper dive into questions about diet, the microbiome, and fecal transplantation—which could lead to the next step in treatments. And it was inspiring to hear enthusiastic comments by attendees about the Foundation’s continued emphasis on networking and taking calculated risks. We are energized by your words and invite you to continue to engage with us beyond the Symposium—see invitation below to contribute your thoughts.

During the two-day event, speakers from government, academia and industry offered a range of perspectives on the disease and included:

Jean-Frédéric Colombel, MD: Key Clinical Questions to Address in IBD

Mount Sinai Hospital

There are many clinical unknowns in IBD. Among those Dr. Colombel shared were the changing geographical distribution of IBD, including the need to investigate unaffected tissues and markers of progression towards developing IBD. These and the other mysteries Dr. Colombel presented demonstrate how our understanding of IBD, both clinically and mechanistically, is still evolving and the need for continued basic and applied research into these important questions.

Fiona Powrie, PhD, FRS: Gut Reactions: Immune Pathways in the Intestine in Health and Disease

University of Oxford

The immune system is complex and when dysregulated, can cause chronic disease. Interactions between the microbiome and the immune responses determine the balance between health and disease. Through her work on regulatory T cells, Dr. Powrie has uncovered that imbalances host-microbe interactions may have a critical role in promoting IBD.

Eric G. Pamer, MD: Microbiome-mediated Defense Against Intestinal Infection

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

The incidence of infection with Clostridium difficile is high in hospitalized patients and occurs most often in those patients being treated with antibiotics. With a focus on patients undergoing bone marrow transplants, Dr. Pamer has uncovered that a diverse patient gut microbiota, including those obtained through auto-Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT), is correlated with increased patient survival. Reconstituting the microbiota through FMT or supplementation with specific commensal microbes may provide an alternative approach to preventing C. difficile infections in a time of decreasing antibiotic susceptibility.

Andrew Chan, MD, PhD: Challenges in Drug Discovery and Development in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases


Drug discovery is a long an arduous process. Among the challenges Dr. Chan shared were the relative inability of preclinical models to predict human outcomes, establishing the difference between clinically defined outcomes and patient-perceived outcomes. He highlighted the need for targeting therapies, particularly complex diseases like IBD, to the right patient, at the right time, in order to produce significant benefits for the patient.

Scott Stibitz, PhD: Regulatory Aspects of Microbiome-Related Biologic Products

US Food and Drug Administration

To date, the approval rate of IBD drugs by the FDA is about 35%, meaning even after the drug development process, standards of efficacy and safety limit the number of drugs coming to market. Investigational New Drug status allows scientists and clinicians to conduct research with unapproved treatments, including Fecal Microbiota Transplantation. However, as Dr. Stibitz shared, this type of treatment presents unique challenges for the FDA, particularly in characterizing the material being used due to the complexity of both donor material and responses to the treatment.

Our current grantees also shared their progress and cutting-edge research.

Henrique Veiga-Fernandes, PhD: Environmental Sensing by Innate Lymphoid Cells

Instituto de Medicina Molecular

The crosstalk between intestinal microbes and immune cells is critical for normal gut function, and when unbalanced, inadequate inflammatory diseases can develop, such as IBD. Certain populations of Innate immune cells contribute substantially to the immune responses and may be critical to understanding IBD. Dr. Veiga-Fernandes has shown that ILC3s sense their environment and control gut defense as part of a novel glial-ILC3-epithelial cell unit orchestrated by neurotrophic factors.

Sean Brady, PhD: Watch Your Step, There is New Chemistry Everywhere

The Rockefeller University

New technologies allow for characterization of bacteria without the need to culture them. Dr. Brady has identified commensal bacterial components from the human microbiome. Some of these molecules are significantly increased in IBD patients but not in healthy patients. Some of this newer technology has the potential to shed light on bacterial products that contribute to the pathobiology of IBD.


Alexander Chervonsky, MD, PhD: Epithelial Glycosylation, Virulence and IBD

The University of Chicago

Intestinal cells are able to maintain intestinal commensal microbiota during infection and illness. Some Crohn’s disease patients lack certain enzymes, which help to maintain these bacteria, suggesting the genes may play a critical role in IBD. These findings suggest that supplementation of specific sugars may allow for proper maintenance of intestinal microbes and maintain a healthy gut.

Additional Rainin Foundation grantee presentations
  • Marco Colonna, MD, Washington University, Intraepithelial T Cells in Mucosal Immunity
  • Gerard Eberl, PhD, Institut Pasteur, From Newborn Immunity to Adult IBD
  • Katherine Fitzgerald, PhD, University of Massachusetts, A LincRNA Involved in Restraining the Inflammatory Response
  • Jeffrey Karp, PhD, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Building a Paneth Cell: Exploring Cellular Origin and Function to Inform IBD
  • Samuel Miller, MD, University of Washington, Slam Family Receptors, Autophagy, and Immunity
  • Daniel Mucida, PhD, The Rockefeller University, Neuro-immune Interactions Drive Tissue Programming in Intestinal Macrophages
  • Herbert Virgin, MD, PhD, Washington University, Characterization of IBD Associated Viruses and Viromes

Tapping Into the Next Breakthrough

The Symposium’s Breakthrough Sessions provide informal feedback and encourage researchers to learn together so that new ideas can gain traction. The sessions generated lively discussions and we would like to continue the conversation.

To ensure that we didn’t miss any big ideas, we’d like to hear from you on the notes below.  Click on the images to enlarge them.

We would love to hear from you on the following:

  • What can we learn from unaffected tissues in the gut?
  • What is the next breakthrough in understanding the impact of diet/probiotics on IBD symptoms and quality of life?
  • What resources are needed to effectively serve the IBD research community?

We invite you to share your comments at the end of this post.

Deadline Extended for Synergy Awards

Symposium attendees are eligible to apply for the Foundation’s Synergy Awards, which provide $100,000 in research support for one year to each investigator on the team, up to $300,000 per project. The Foundation has extended the deadline for Letters of Inquiry for this exclusive grant opportunity. The extension gives applicants more time to build partnerships, cultivate ideas, and demonstrate that the proposed research will be stronger because of collaboration. We are accepting online submissions through November 18, 2016. Visit our website for more information.

Rainin Foundation Grantees

Innovations Symposium slideshow. Photo credit: Stephanie Secrest.

Our Work Together Continues

Reflecting on our growth over the past five years as a funder, it’s clear that our investments in early, high-risk research are paying off. Your work has yielded discoveries in improving quality of life for IBD patients and is advancing novel research ideas. At the same time, we are creating a community of trainees, clinicians, researchers and scientists who share the common goal of ultimately curing IBD.

The Symposium’s community-building platform enables the Foundation to continue to seek high-risk, high-reward proposals that can bolster the IBD research network and its body of work. In addition, it allows us to better understand what is happening at the patient level and identify more scientific questions to explore. The many conversations that took place at the Symposium between new and seasoned researchers illustrate that by encouraging collaborative thinking and network building, we are strengthening the possibilities of what we can achieve together.

Mark Your Calendars: 2017 Symposium


Save the date for next year’s Symposium on July 24-25, 2017, in San Francisco. Our featured speakers will include: Martin Blaser, MD, New York University; Tejal Desai, PhD, University of California, San Francisco; Christoph Klein, MD, PhD, Ludwig Maximilians University; and Ian Sanderson, MD, FRCP, FRVPCH, Queen Mary University of London. We’re looking forward to hearing their perspectives on IBD and learning more about the latest discoveries and promising research.

Top photo: Rainin Foundation Scientific Advisory Board Members Averil Ma, MD, and Yasmine Belkaid, PhD, at the Innovations Symposium. Photo credit: Stephanie Secrest.

Add Your Comments Below

We would love to hear from you on the following:

  • What can we learn from unaffected tissues in the gut?
  • What is the next breakthrough in understanding the impact of diet/probiotics on IBD symptoms and quality of life?
  • What resources are needed to effectively serve the IBD research community?

Laura Wilson, PhD

Laura Wilson, PhD

Director, Health Strategy & Ventures

Laura leads the strategic direction for the Foundation’s Health program by collaborating with leading scientific and medical researchers, as well as building partnerships with organizations and international stakeholders to expand and advance innovative Inflammatory Bowel Disease research. Read more.

Suggested Reading


  1. Jeff Karp

    What a wonderful high impact meeting!!! Really the who’s who of inflammatory bowel disease research and treatment. The executive team clearly pushes to the limits to maximize discussion around cutting edge thinking and clinical approaches to make the symposium one not to miss!

  2. Ben Mead

    Wanted to say thank you to the organizing committee for their recognition of trainees (like myself) at the symposium. Clearly a lot of effort went into ensuring all attendees had an opportunity to learn, network, and get the most out of this meeting. Definitely a huge resource for the next generation of IBD researchers!

  3. Kate Fitzgerald

    This annual symposium is a true scientific treat. The meeting is exceptionally well organized at every level and the science and speakers world class. As a KRF grantee its a true delight to be involved with this wonderful foundation that is doing great work to further IBD research. I especially encourage young investigators interested in intestinal inflammation and IBD research to get involved, attend this symposium and apply for KRF funding opportunities.

  4. Danielle Smyth

    Hands down the best scientific conference experience I’ve had in my 20 (-ish) year career. Loved the broad, high impact science; the network opportunities; and especially enjoyed the clinical talks – a clear reminder of what’s still needed to be addressed. This was also highlighted in an excellent wrap-up session on the final day (visualised in the ‘Breakthrough Session’ story boards seen in the blog posting). A unique foundation doing remarkable work – looking forward to the next one KRF.

  5. Kevin Whelan

    The meeting spanned the translation spectrum, covering everything from basic science to clinical applications to improve IBD treatment. The networking opportunities have already led to potential future collaborations. I would encourage basic and applied researchers and health professionals in IBD to attend – an exceptional meeting.

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