The multidisciplinary research group that would later become the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute was formed in 1983 following a national competition for funds provided by the Kahanoff Foundation of Calgary and administered by the Canadian Foundation for Ileitis and Colitis, now known as Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. McMaster University and the University of Calgary were each the recipients of a one-time grant of $3.6 million to establish an Intestinal Disease Research Unit (IDRU) at each institution. The IDRU mandate was to develop an interactive multidisciplinary research group for the study of intestinal diseases, with special emphasis on inflammatory bowel disease.
From the outset, McMaster adopted an integrated multidisciplinary approach, with the involvement of basic scientists and clinician scientists from such diverse disciplines as immunology, physiology, electrophysiology and behaviour and encouraged a bench-to-bedside approach to its research. This was facilitated by the very close relationship between the IDRU and the clinical Division of Gastroenterology. A unique aspect of the IDRU was the physical proximity of the researchers; all research was initially performed in one large laboratory where cross-fertilization of ideas occurred and novel hypotheses were developed and tested.
At that time, the group consisted of five faculty members and was directed by Dr. Richard Hunt, Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Gastroenterology between 1983-4. The funds from the grant were used to support core activities and a central office, to purchase equipment for shared use and to bridge salary requirements for new recruits.
In 1984, Dr. Stephen Collins, an assistant professor recruited in 1981 from NIH Bethesda, Md., to the Department of Medicine, replaced Dr. Hunt as director of the unit. Over the next few years, the group was extremely successful and virtually all members were awarded Canadian Institutes of Health Research operating grants as well as research grants from other agencies. Many also received highly competitive salary awards. The success of the group resulted in the recruitment of several additional members, bringing the total to eight, and expansion into an adjacent laboratory on the third floor of McMaster University’s Health Sciences Centre.
The research unit attained status as an official faculty program in 1991. By 1992, the Intestinal Disease Research Program (IDRP) consisted of 15 full faculty members and six associate members, with five different departments represented. There were roughly 25 staff, students and trainees at the time.
In 1994, Dr. Collins stepped down as the director of the IDRP, two years after he accepted as position as chief of the Division of Gastroenterology. In 1995, Dr. Mary Perdue, Professor in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, was installed as the new director of the IDRP and she held the position for 10 years.
In 2003, following a review of the Program, Dr. Collins persuaded the University to agree to the construction of a unique facility – an axenic-gnotobiotic unit – and recruited Professor Andrew Macpherson, an internationally recognized clinician-scientist from the Institute of Experimental Immunology in Zurich, Switzerland, to be the facility’s first director. These events were facilitated by a combination of institutional funding and a generous donation from the Farncombe family. The 3,000-square-foot Farncombe Family Axenic-Gnotobiotic Facility was opened in 2004 and microbiome-related research quickly became the focus of the group’s research.
In 2004, Professor Paul Moayyedi was recruited to McMaster from the United Kingdom. Dr. Moayyedi is an internationally recognized clinician investigator who works in the field of meta-analysis of clinical trials and is currently responsible for the gastrointestinal components of the Cochrane database. Dr. Moayyedi succeeded Dr. Collins as head of the Clinical Division of Gastroenterology and runs the Clinical Research Centre within the Farncombe Institute.
In 2005, Dr. Jan Huizinga became the director of the IRDP. He oversaw a major transition in the research performed in the IDRP, and the exploitation of the gnotobiotic facility. The reputation of the IDRP has continued to grow in recent years as judged by research funding, new facilities, awards, invited lectures and requests for training from scientists. Drs. Macpherson and Collins were successful in securing funds from The Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to establish a metagenomics platform for the study of the intestinal microbiome and its impact on the host in health and disease.
On Oct. 9, 2008, the IDRP became the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute following another generous gift from the Farncombe family, resulting in the establishment of 4 endowed chairs. The generosity of the Farncombe family has enabled the continued success of McMaster GI researchers and their investment has been leveraged several times over from institutional and external sources that include CIHR, NIH, CRCs, CCC, and industrial partners.
RESEARCH DIRECTORS 1983-2016
|1983-4||Dr. Richard Hunt||Director of the Intestinal Diseases Research Unit|
|1984-94||Dr. Stephen Collins||Director of the Intestinal Diseases Research Unit|
|1994-2004||Dr. Mary Perdue||Director of the Intestinal Diseases Research Program|
|2005-8||Dr. Jan Huizinga||Director of the Intestinal Diseases Research Program|
|2008-12||Dr. John Wallace||Director of the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute|
|2012-2014||Dr. Paul Moayyedi||Director of the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute|
|2014-||Dr. Stephen Collins||Director of the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute|