TORONTO – April 2nd, 2014 – Crohn’s and Colitis Canada and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust today announced the largest-ever funding commitment to Crohn’s disease research in Canada. The funds will support the Genetics, Environmental, Microbial (GEM) Project, a Canadian-led international research study investigating the causes of Crohn’s disease.
The $10 million funding commitment is made possible by a lead gift of $6 million from the Helmsley Charitable Trust, one of the largest family trusts in the United States, which includes a focus on Crohn’s disease amongst its funding priorities. The Helmsley Charitable Trust grant will be matched by a further $4 million in active fundraising from Crohn’s and Colitis Canada and Mount Sinai Hospital.
Speaking to a crowd at Mount Sinai Hospital on Wednesday, GEM Project lead investigator Dr. Ken Croitoru was excited about the potential that the study holds for Canadians living with Crohn’s disease and their families.
“The GEM Project is a one-of-a-kind study, specifically designed to answer the pivotal question ‘what causes Crohn’s disease?’” said Dr. Croitoru. “We hope that the answer to this question will point us in the direction of future treatments or even ways to prevent the disease.”
Canadians have more reasons to be concerned about Crohn’s disease than anyone else in the world. Canada has one of the highest rates worldwide. An estimated 130,000 Canadians have this lifelong disease. Most alarming, the number of new cases of Crohn’s disease in Canadian children has almost doubled since 1995.
“Given Canada’s extremely high incidence of Crohn’s, it is imperative that we lead the charge to better understand what causes the disease,” explained Har Grover, Chair of Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. “We are grateful that one of the top philanthropic organizations in the world is placing their trust – and their funding – in Canadian research leading the way. I have no doubt that the Helmsley Charitable Trust’s generous gift will help others to see the enormous potential of the GEM Project and inspire them to give.”
The GEM Project investigates the ways in which genetic predisposition, environmental influences and microbial interactions combine to determine if a person develops Crohn’s disease. To do this, researchers study healthy relatives – either siblings or children of people living with Crohn’s disease. To-date, the GEM Project has recruited more than 2,800 participants. The aim of the increased funding is to reach 5,000 recruits and the project is actively recruiting eligible participants.
“We saw the value of the GEM Project immediately,” said Jim O’Sullivan, Program Director of the Helmsley Charitable Trust’s IBD & Crohn’s Program. “We are confident that our grant will be an accelerator for this research and help to provide answers sooner for people living with Crohn’s and their families.”
The importance of the GEM Project’s research was underscored by one of the study’s young participants. 14 year-old Jake Pang enrolled in the study because his mother, Sherry, suffers from Crohn’s disease.
“Crohn’s disease is pretty terrible, as I’ve seen from my mom,” said Jake Pang. “I want to help my mom and others who have Crohn’s disease by finding a way to cure it or preventing other people from getting it. Being in the study has been really easy so far, and I feel like I’m helping in one small way.”
“When you suffer from Crohn’s, your whole family suffers,” explains Sherry Pang. “I’ve had three surgeries, which has been incredibly hard on our entire family, but particularly my sons. The GEM Project is not only important research, but it’s a way for family members to feel like they are contributing to helping researchers better understand the disease and maybe to one day find a cure.”