Australian Budget Spares Research From Further Blow

Australian Gastroenterology Week (AGW) 2007 & Developments in Ulcerative Colitis

The govermnent has yet to calculate the final tally for all the research-related items in its budget, according to a departmental spokesperson. So it is unclear yet whether total funding levels for for 201314 will be higher or lower than those for 201213. Science and Technology Australia, a professional-interests group in Canberra that represents 68,000 scientists and technologists, said in a statement that the budget holds little for science and technology with a reprieve for mid-career fellowships and critical infrastructure funding but scant long-term vision. The Australian Academy of Science agrees. While the academy welcomes short-term investments in researchers and research infrastructure, this budget unfortunately represents a missed opportunity to support a strategic long-term vision for Australias future, academy president Suzanne Cory said in a statement. The science community had steeled itself for a new blow after the governments announcement on 13 April of a Aus$2.3-billion (US$2.27-billion) cut to some university research, teaching and learning grants and student-support schemes. The cuts came after the governments decision last October to delay planned increases to the Sustainable Research Excellence scheme, which covers part of the indirect costs of university research, such as maintenance and technical support. Budget shortfall The Labor party, which holds a minority government with the support of the Australian Greens and some independents, revealed last week that national revenue had been Aus$17 billion lower than expected in the 201213 financial year. But the government reaffirmed its commitment to major initiatives a school reform programme and a national disability-insurance scheme. With a federal election looming in September, the government had been under pressure to put the budget on the road to a future surplus. On Tuesday, the government reported that the deficit in 201314 will be Aus$18 billion, down from Aus$19.4 billion in 201213, with the budget expected to return to balance in 201516 and to surplus in 201617. In the budget, the government resurrected the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, allocating Aus$185.9 million over two years to keep vital research facilities running. Scientists had worried about the fate of infrastructure worth hundreds of millions of dollars, such as the Australian Plasma Fusion Research Facility at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. The government also laid out a little more than Aus$135 million over five years to extend the Australian Research Councils Future Fellowships scheme, a programme to attract and retain outstanding mid-career researchers.

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Levels of 5-ASA in the lining of the bowels have been shown to predict efficacy and possibly act as a marker for clinical endpoints in patients with disease. A clinical trial was performed by Haines et al, to try and determine a simple, yet sensitive and reproducible method for detection of 5-ASA in the lining of the bowel. Specific concentrations of 5-ASA were added to biopsies (tissue samples) of the lining of the colon. From the study, clear, reproducible peaks were achieved at certain wavelengths. These peaks were significantly sensitive for 5-ASA. What we need to do now is to apply these results in a clinical context. Genes Implicated in IBD – IL23R is an IBD Susceptibility Gene (confirmation in an Australian cohort) and GLI1 gene a Risk Factor for Ulcerative Colitis With advances in research and from results of clinical studies, additional insight into the causes and genetics behind ulcerative colitis has been obtained. For example, variations in particular receptors such as the IL 23 receptor has recently been shown to be associated with both Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. Another gene called the GLI1 gene plays a significant role in the formation and maintenance of a healthy lining for our gut. Defects in the GLI1 gene have been implicated in patients with ulcerative colitis. Patterns of Medication use in Inflammatory Bowel Disease PatientsThere is a wide range of therapies for ulcerative colitis – depending on the location of disease, different combinations of treatments are employed. In disease limited to the rectum, the mainstay of therapy includes topical aminosalicyclate (5-ASA) suppositories (small masses of medication that are designed to melt when inserted into a body cavity). Topical therapy refers to local application of treatment directly onto the surface of a body part. In more extensive cases where disease affects larger parts of the bowels, combination therapy involving 5-ASA agents (both oral and topical), steroids and other immunosuppressive agents is recommended. In a recent study conducted by Barclay et al, an increased use of medications which act to alter the immune response (immunomodulators) was demonstrated. Out of 1421 patients with inflammatory bowel disease, the use of immunomodulators including azathioprine, 6 mercaptopurine and methotrexate was investigated.

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