Archive for category: News & Announcements

Congratulations to Miriam Bermudez Brito for her MITACS PDF award

Dr. Miriam Bermudez-Brito is post doctoral fellow with Dr. Elena Verdu. She obtained her PhD at the University of Granada in Spain and did a first postdoc at UMC Groningen and Top Institute of Food & Nutrition, in the Netherlands. The main focus of her research is to study the role of host-microbial interactions and gut proteolytic/anti-proteolytic balance that may affect development of sensitivity to food antigens and increase susceptibility to intestinal inflammatory conditions such as celiac disease and ulcerative colitis.

At McMaster, and supported by Mitacs Accelerate Program, Miriam will test the role of a probiotic bacterium B. longum NCC 2705 in the metabolism of dietary proteins that can cause dysregulated inflammatory reactions in the gut such as gluten and amylase trypsin inhibitors. Miria’s studies will enhance the mechanistic knowledge and provide a basis for human trials and a rational application of these probiotic strains together with the industrial partner, Nestle Research Center in Switzerland, in the prevention or treatment of food sensitivities.

First study shows tie between probiotic and improved symptoms of depression


Hamilton, ON (May 23, 2017) – Probiotics may relieve symptoms of depression, as well as help gastrointestinal upset, research from McMaster University has found.

In a study published in the medical journal Gastroenterology, researchers of the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute found that twice as many adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) reported improvements from co-existing depression when they took a specific probiotic than adults with IBS who took a placebo.

The study provides further evidence of the microbiota environment in the intestines being in direct communication with the brain said senior author Dr. Premysl Bercik, an associate professor of medicine at McMaster and a gastroenterologist for Hamilton Health Sciences.

“This study shows that consumption of a specific probiotic can improve both gut symptoms and psychological issues in IBS. This opens new avenues not only for the treatment of patients with functional bowel disorders but also for patients with primary psychiatric diseases,” he said.

IBS is the most common gastrointestinal disorder in the world, and is highly prevalent in Canada. It affects the large intestine and patients suffer from abdominal pain and altered bowel habits like diarrhea and constipation. They are also frequently affected by chronic anxiety or depression.

The pilot study involved 44 adults with IBS and mild to moderate anxiety or depression. They were followed for 10 weeks, as half took a daily dose of the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001, while the others had a placebo.

At six weeks, 14 of 22, or 64%, of the patients taking the probiotic had decreased depression scores, compared to seven of 22 (or 32%) of patients given placebo.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) showed that the improvement in depression scores was associated with changes in multiple brain areas involved in mood control.

“This is the result of a decade long journey – from identifying the probiotic, testing it in preclinical models and investigating the pathways through which the signals from the gut reach the brain,” said Bercik.

“The results of this pilot study are very promising but they have to be confirmed in a future, larger scale trial,” said  Dr. Maria Pinto Sanchez, the first author and a McMaster clinical research fellow.

The study was performed in collaboration with scientists from Nestlé.


If you have been diagnosed with IBS and would like to participate in future studies, please, provide your information bellow and we will contact you:

Clinical Trial Probiotic Belongum in IBS
First and Last Name

Undergraduate Student Awards

A rich research environment here in the Farncombe Institute is fostering exciting research opportunities for undergraduate students. Here we highlight and congratulate a number of students who will join research labs for the summer and beyond.

Christian Bellissimo has just completed his undergrad thesis in Dr. Deb Slaboda‘s lab. He has been awarded an Ontario Graduate Scholarship to start a PhD in the fall working on the impact of maternal obesity on the host and microbe relationships during pregnancy.

christine_chowChristine Chow is a 4th year student in theBiomedical Discovery and Commercialization and has won a Cystic Fibrosis Canada Summer Studentship in the lab of Dr. Michael Surette. Her project is  the characterization of secretion systems in the Streptococcus milleri group.



Carolina Duque will work in the lab of Dr. Elena Verdu. She has been awarded a 2017 CCC-CAG Summer Student Scholarship Award to work on isolation of bacterial strains from the colon of patients with ulcerative colitis and determination of bacterial proteolytic activity.




Richa John is a fourth year student in the Bachelor of Health Science Program. She has been awarded a BHSc (Honours) Program Summer 2017 Research Scholarship also in the Surette lab to study bacterial interactions and small molecules.



Clara Long is a fourth year student Bachelor of Health Science student and has been awarded a BHSc Honours Program Summer 2017 Research Scholarship. She’ll complete work on bacterial fermentation of specific dietary components in the infant gut in the lab of Dr. Jennifer Stearns.




Parsa Mehraban Far is a 3rd year Bachelor of Health Science student at McMaster. He has been awarded an NSERC Undergraduate Scholarship to work in Dr. Wali Khan‘s lab this summer on the interaction of serotonin with PPAR-gamma in antimicrobial peptide production.

Andrea Tench



Joo Yung (Jeff) Park is a fourth year student in the Bachelor of Health Sciences program. He has won a 2017 Ivan Beck Memorial Summer Studentship Award to study the gluten metabolic capacity of bacteria isolated from the duodenum of healthy subjects and patients with celiac disease, with Dr. Elena Verdu.

Bruno Lamas awarded a Michael G. DeGroote Fellowship Award in Basic Biomedical Science

Bruno Lamas comes to the Verdu lab after a PhD from Auvergne University, France and a post-doctoral fellowship at UPMC University in Paris and MICALIS Institute at INRA. He is interested in the relationship between the products of metabolism and the host’s immune system, in the context of intestinal inflammatory disorders. Here at McMaster, supported by a Michael G. DeGroote Fellowship Award in Basic Biomedical Science, he will investigate the role of the gut microbiota metabolism on the inappropriate intestinal immune response observed in celiac disease patients. His long-term goal is to identify new mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of celiac disease, that can lead to development of novel preventive and therapeutic strategies.

Approximately 300,000 Canadians suffer from celiac disease (CeD), one of the most common food sensitivities. CeD is triggered by ingestion of gluten-containing food, that causes destruction of the small intestinal lining leading to abdominal, skin and neurological symptoms. The HLA-DQ2 or -DQ8 gene is necessary, but insufficient alone, to develop CeD suggesting additional environmental factors are required. Large, undigested fractions of gluten are responsible for the development of a pathogenic gluten-specific T cell response and this, in conjunction with the activation of intraepithelial lymphocytes (IEL), leads to intestinal atrophy. The trigger(s) for IEL activation in CeD, however, remain unknown. During his PhD Bruno showed that changes in gut bacteria lead to altered production of molecules that signal through the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), which affects inflammation in the gut. Importantly, AhR influences IELs that are key for the development of intestinal damage in CeD. Thus, the central aim of his proposed work is to determine if gut bacteria from celiac patients activate IELs through impaired capacity to produce AhR ligands from tryptophan metabolism. Currently, a strict life-long gluten-free diet is the only efficient treatment available for CeD. This is financially and socially difficult for patients, contamination with hidden sources of gluten is frequent, and many patients do not respond favorably to dietary gluten restriction. Bruno’s work will identify new mechanisms involved in the innate immune activation pathway of CeD in hopes of elaborating novel preventive and therapeutic strategies based on identification of AhR-activating bacteria, or their metabolites.

Gutsy Walk fundraising Kicks Off

Be GUTSY with us! On Sunday, June 4, 2017, the Farncombe Institute’s team will be GUTSY and walk alongside over 23,000 people across Canada to help stop the pain, multiple surgeries, and missed moments that Crohn’s and colitis can cause.

If you want to contribute head over to to register, join or donate. Even if you can’t join us for the walk on June 4th you can still join the team and collect pledges to help us obtain our fundraising goal. Check out our Gutsy walk page to see photos from previous years’ walks.

Hamilton CCA gives to the McMaster Celiac Clinic

The Hamilton chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association has made a generous gift to support patient care through a donation to the recently opened Celiac Clinic here at McMaster University, which is the only adult clinic of its kind in Canada. The money will be used for innovative research projects and gluten measurement kits. We thank Hamilton CCA for their gift that will directly benefit patients from greater Hamilton area and other areas of Ontario with no access to an adult Celiac Clinic.

BASEF winners

On April the 4th 2017, our Farncombe Institute was pleased to hand out awards to two students who presented their science project at the 57th annual Bay Area Science and Engineering Fair (BASEF), where almost 400 projects were on display. This year’s Farncombe judges were Jennifer Lau, Sharif Sharib and Jan Huizinga. We awarded Matthew Gilbreath, grade 7 at St Augustine, for his project: “Stomach Acid: The Mush Maker”, and Liam McGrath, grade 8 at Immaculate Conception, for his project: “Knock! Knock! Probiotics, are you really there?”. Both students were passionate about understanding our gut and what we can do to keep us healthy!

Deb Sloboda Honoured as a YWCA Woman of Distinction

debThe YWCA Women of Distinction Awards page begins with:

“You know her. She has broken new ground or old barriers. She has inspired women by shaping the future. She has paved the way for women today. “

Which a perfect description of our colleague Dr. Debora Sloboda. On March 9th, Dr. Sloboda was recognized for her commitment to the development of women and improvement of the community as a Woman of Distinction in the Science, Technology and Trades category. Through her research into prenatal risks and long-term disease risk, she is leading the translation of this research for women’s community health groups and she is an important mentor to young women here in the Farncombe Institute and McMaster University. She is committed to expanding the visibility of women in science.

The Women of Distinction Awards are nationally recognized as one of the most prestigious awards for women. YWCAs across Canada join in the celebration each year, honouring the remarkable achievements of women.

Congratulations Deb!

You can see the awards page here and the Hamilton Spectator coverage here.

High school student gets first author paper in the flagship journal of the British Physiological Society

Ruihan Wei, a grade 11 student at Hillfield Strathallan College in Hamilton, has showed that he’s ready for the next wave of methodologies to reveal mechanisms underlying body functions and disease. Brain research is leading the way but research in network physiology is needed for every body function. Mathematical modelling is needed for the understanding of complex networks, which is where Ruihan has excelled. His paper on network properties of interstitial cells of Cajal is set to increase our understanding of the role of pacemaker networks in creating motor patterns in the intestine. Notably, after Sean Parsons and Jan got him going, Ruihan did all the experiments himself that created the publication in the journal Experimental Physiology, and the whole Huizinga lab is proud of his accomplishments and welcomes him back the coming summer.

See the publication summary here

Wei, Ruihan, Sean P. Parsons, and Jan D. Huizinga. “Network properties of interstitial cells of Cajal affect intestinal pacemaker activity and motor patterns, according to a mathematical model of weakly coupled oscillators.” Experimental Physiology (2017).

Student excellence in research at the Medical Sciences Research Day


Graduate research excellence was on display at the Medical Sciences Research Day 2017. Of the research presented, two Farncombe graduate students were recognized for the high calibre of their work. Elizabeth Perez, a Masters student in the Collins/Bercik lab,247-farncombe-2015 won a first place prize for her oral presentation entitled: “Gnotobiotic mice colonized with GAD microbiota display anxiety-like behaviour, innate immune activation, and altered BDNF expression”. Luna ElDakiky, a Masters student in the Stearns lab, IMG_7205 EDITwon second place for her poster presentation on “Development of a Targeted Bacterial Culture Strategy to Study the Impact of Solid Food Introduction on Development of the Infant Gut Microbiome”. Congratulations to both of them.