The Helmsley Charitable Trust supports leading research institutions across the globe in an unprecedented effort to find a cure—and until then better treatments—for IBD and Crohn’s disease. Helmsley has allocated more than $160 million to institutions in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Israel. Many of these projects bring scientists together in new collaborations to study different facets of the disease and incorporate the latest technologies and most recent scientific insights into their explorations. Across the program, nearly 100 Helmsley-funded investigators are working to understand both how human genetics and the gut microbiome can cause and exacerbate IBD and bring those insights into the development of new treatments.
The program seeks to find a cure for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and while awaiting that outcome, to find better therapeutic and prevention strategies. The areas of grantmaking are focused in the following areas:
Due to the complexity of IBD, Helmsley is committed to fostering novel collaborations of leading scientists across the field. To date, Helmsley grants have assembled three groundbreaking research networks, all of which seek to bring the combined expertise and access to significant numbers of patients to the study of IBD/Crohn’s. The networks are:
- The Sinai-Helmsley Alliance for Research Excellence (SHARE):$23.9 million has been awarded to collaborative research projects at Cedars Sinai, Massachusetts General Hospital, Mayo Clinic, Mt Sinai Medical Center (NY), University of Chicago, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Washington University – among the nation’s premier centers for the study of IBD/Crohn’s.
- Israeli IBD Research Network: As IBD and Crohn’s is overrepresented within Israel in comparison to the rest of the global population, the country provides a unique concentration of patients' research data and a number of the world’s foremost investigators in this field. Helmsley has made $6.5 million in grants to support research by scientists at Tel Aviv Medical Center, Soroka Hospital/Ben Gurion University, Rambam Medical Center, Shaare Zedek, and Sheba Medical Center.
- Very Early Onset IBD Network: In an unprecedented collaboration focusing on a novel avenue of research, Helmsley has made $8.7 million in grants to Children’s Hospital Corporation (Boston), The Hospital for Sick Children (Toronto), Care-for-Rare Foundation (Munich), Mt. Sinai Medical Center (NY), Cedars Sinai Medical Center (Los Angeles), Yale University (New Haven), Hubrecht Institute (Utrecht), Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (Vienna), Stanford University (Palo Alto) and University of Oxford (Oxford) to research the role of genetic variants in very early onset cases of IBD and develop cell and gene-based therapies for IBD in children under the age of two.
- IBD Over Time: Understanding and Changing the Course of Crohn’s Disease: A new European research consortium is exploring ways to develop safe, effective cell-based therapies to disrupt the progression of Crohn’s. Over three years and with $6 million in new grants, experts from the Institut Nationale de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, the Institut d’Investigaciones Biomèdicas August Pi i Sunyer, and the Technical University of Munich will together analyze how the immune system interacts with the microbiome.
Funds established at Harvard University, Mt. Sinai Medical Center (NY), and the Weizmann Institute of Science are allowing multidisciplinary teams of researchers at those institutions to test new scientific questions about the cause and progression of IBD.
Genetics of IBD
More than 170 regions on the genome are associated with higher risk for IBD, and if those genomic variants are identified, it will be easier to develop treatment drugs. It will also improve early detection and an ability to extract and isolate tumor cells from the bloodstream. Creating coordinated plans to explore and leverage new findings in genetics, Helmsley has awarded nearly $30 million in grants to the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s Geriatrics Initiative, and the Genetic, Environmental, and Microbial (GEM) Project of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada.
All of the Helmsley-funded projects are generating enormous amounts of data. The research networks are each creating their own mechanisms for cataloging, accessing, and harnessing this information. In addition, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America is using a $1 million Helmsley Trust award to pilot new mechanisms for centralizing and standardizing data.
The CCFA Genetics Initiative seeks to deliver validated pathway models of IBD disease mechanisms, new animal models for analysis and development, chemical probes of relevant pathways, new proteins and pathway targets, recruitment of new IBD investigators, and a tested paradigm for rapid analysis and cure for complex IBD. Helmsley supports this ongoing development, and provides funds for the development of new and mid-career researchers in IBD through the CCFA Research Grants and Fellowship Program.
IBD researchers have begun to recognize that the gut microbiome (the aggregate of microbes), their genomes, and their environmental interactions in the lower digestive tract play an important role in the development of IBD. Helmsley has awarded a grant to the CCFA Microbiome Initiative, which is using the latest generation of DNA sequencers to study the complex role that intestinal microbial communities play in IBD, and how that knowledge might translate into diagnostic and therapeutic tools.