Dr. Eugene Chang (left) with Peter and Carol Goldman
Goldmans Aid Advancements in GI Care
When Peter and Carol Goldman's son Jeff was diagnosed with Crohn's disease at age 21, they were determined to learn as much as possible about the inflammatory bowel disorder that leads to severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, and malnutrition.
“It’s a very embarrassing type of discussion and it’s uncomfortable, especially for young people,” says Peter, president and chief executive officer of Reed-Union Corporation, an automotive chemical company. “A lot of people suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) diseases, and it would be great to have better medications or ways to live with the disease.”
After learning about the University of Chicago’s Gastro-Intestinal Research Foundation (GIRF), a group formed to support research in the causes and cures for digestive disease, the Goldmans joined the men and women’s board respectively, and shortly thereafter made a generous contribution to launch a new area of study in the human microbiome (intestinal bacteria) to advance the treatment of GI diseases. Most recently, the couple has pledged to continue their support for another two years.
“Our interest is inspired by our son and his affliction, but we’re also very interested in the area of GI diseases and have always felt the University of Chicago is a leader in that area,” says Carol, founder and president of the popular Chicago-based, Carol’s Cookies.
Goldmans' gift has far reaching impact
Remarkably, the impact of this generosity extends far beyond the dollars contributed. In just a few years, the University gained an entirely new base of scientific expertise in gastrointestinal microbiota. Upon that foundation and the University’s prominence in the field of gastroenterology, University scientists created from inception a nationally recognized research program with an infrastructure of specialized facilities enjoyed by only a handful of other institutions. The effort has already begun producing important discoveries.
Moreover, the facilities made possible partnerships for new research in a germ-free gnotobiotic lab, which houses mice born without any microbes, to advance treatment in other medical areas.
“The Goldmans provided us with seed funds to go from zero to 60 in equipment and new talent,” says Eugene Chang, MD, the Martin Boyer professor of medicine and associate section chief for research at the University of Chicago. “The new labs spurred new approaches to research in other disease and will examine the influence of the microbiome in those conditions. We will continue to provide a great return on their investment, and I hope we can make a difference for their family.”
The facility the Goldmans helped fund played an important role in Chang and his team winning a highly competitive Human Microbiome Demonstration Project by the National Institutes of Health. The University’s involvement in this national consortium of five research facilities resulted in a $25 million grant and the publication of numerous journal articles on the role of microbiota in inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).
Among the most significant of the articles is a study to be reported in the journal Nature that explains why IBD and other complex immune disorders such as juvenile diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma are more common today than years ago.
“These are new-age diseases. Within the last 50 to 100 years, we as human beings have changed our environment and our lifestyles, and our own biology has not had time to adapt,” Chang says. “We eat high-fat, highly processed foods, and we’ve changed the microbes in our gut. When you change that side of the host-microbe equation, consequences will develop.”
Redefining inflammatory bowel diseases
Also being examined is how IBD is defined, adds Chang. For the past 60 years, those with IBD have had their condition categorized as either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. “It’s very clear to many of us in the field that there are not just two diseases; there are probably many diseases that end up looking like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis,” he says.
So when treatments are offered for one or the other disease, not all patients respond as they would hope. “That’s because one size does not fit all,” says Chang. “If they’re different diseases that just look the same, you cannot assume that one treatment is going to fit everybody.”
With the next phase of the Goldmans’ funding, Chang and his team plan to begin defining those different subsets of IBD using advanced technologies, genetics, and microbial analysis to unveil customized treatments for individual patients.
Today, Jeff, now 36, who himself received various treatments specific to Crohn’s disease, is thriving thanks in part to his doctor who was trained under Stephen Hanauer, MD, a world leader in the treatment of IBD at the University of Chicago. Carol and Peter’s knowledge of GI diseases has also grown immensely. “I’ve met some wonderful people since joining GIRF, and I’ve learned a lot,” says Carol. “I really just wanted to help out in whatever way I could.”
They both believe Chang, Hanauer, and others focusing on GI diseases at the University will guide the future of GI care. “We don’t just like to write a check,” adds Peter. “We like to be involved, and the researchers at the University have done a wonderful job and we feel very optimistic about the future.”