McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

New digestive health institute launches with 'super star' leader

Published: October 9, 2008
Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute
Architectural rendering of the entrance to the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute

The Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute officially opened today with the announcement of a $15 million gift towards its work identifying the causes and cures of digestive diseases.

The McMaster University institute will have a research focus on understanding the causes of common gastroenterology conditions, particularly inflammatory and other bowel diseases, with particular attention on the role of the intestinal microbial environment.

This research will generate new therapeutic approaches to the disorders which affect more than 2 million Canadians and impact many aspects of health.

The institute has been initiated by the Farncombe family of Oakville. They have donated the funds to provide capital for new facilities, as well as the creation of endowed leadership positions and the development of a team of young researchers.

The institute will build on the successful digestive health research program developed at McMaster for more than 25 years, considered one of the top 10 gastroenterology research groups in the world.  Its inaugural director, John Wallace, is a pharmacologist and founder of two pharmaceutical companies. Currently at the University of Calgary, he will take the institute position on January 1, 2009. 

"We sincerely appreciate the leadership of the Farncombe family," said Peter George, president and vice-chancellor of McMaster University, in making the announcement.  "Their gift is the fourth largest gift ever to a Canadian medical school.  Three of these four gifts have come to the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, which attests to the world-renowned work being done here.

"The Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute will greatly enhance our capacity to help the thousands who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease."

Kevin Glasgow, CEO of the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Canada, said there is a profound need for additional research, as Canada has amongst the highest prevalence rates for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis in the world.

"McMaster is already robust as a world leader in digestive health research, and from its young researchers has spawned the leaders of many other important gastrointestinal research centres. This will solidify its pre-eminent role."

John Wallace said: "I am delighted to be joining one of the premier digestive disease research groups in the world. The generosity of the Farncombe family will allow us to build on the existing excellence, achieving our goal of developing better therapies and cures for many chronic digestive diseases."

The Farncombe family initially gave $3.5 million in 2004 to the intestinal diseases research program at McMaster, to establish a gnotobiotic or sterile laboratory unique in Canadian universities, as well as an endowed professorial chair, the Farncombe Family Chair in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. In the next four years the program received than $21.5 million in research grants; investments in additional facilities including DNA sequencing equipment and the allocation of two senior scientist positions, as well as the arrival of international graduate students.

The gift will provide:

  • Capital for a new $3.5 million facility within the McMaster Health Sciences Centre, to include labs, offices and an innovation meeting area and atrium for multi-disciplinary scientists to share ideas and generate new collaborations. Construction is expected to begin in 2009;
  • Establishment of a Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research chair with a $3 million endowment, to support the institute’s scientific director;
  • Three chairs, endowed with $2 million each, to attract high potential junior researchers and allow them to establish their academic research career over a five year term;
  • Scholarships for graduate students.

"This is a fascinating area of study. At a time when we hear of deadly digestive infections such as Listeria, there is increasing evidence that some infectious agents are required for the body to maintain health," said John Kelton, the dean and vice-president of the Faculty of Health Sciences and the dean of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.

"In other words, healthy individuals require a balance in the type and number of bacteria that live within their bodies. The Farncombe Family’s remarkable gift will allow McMaster to be the first Canadian university to systematically address this important question by studying the effects of bacteria on the entire well-being of humans."

Development of a young team of researchers is important, said Steve Collins, a founding leader of the digestive research program at McMaster and now associate dean for Research for the Faculty of Health Sciences.

"We are very grateful to the Farncombe family for their continued support of our research," he said. "This gift will enable us to fully exploit our large germ-free laboratory which is essential to better understand how intestinal microbes can initiate and maintain chronic disease. We now have a unique infrastructure that will attract scientists of the highest calibre and enable us to go beyond existing boundaries in our search for the causes of functional and inflammatory bowel diseases.

"I have no doubt that this gift will enable us to take our research to the highest level."

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