WINNIPEG -- A Winnipeg group of gastroenterologists is looking for hundreds of people to donate their stool to science.

Actually more than just stool -- they want your urine, your blood and a little bit of your time to answer questions to help improved the management of inflammatory bowel diseases and irritable bowel syndromes. The two most common examples are Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis.

Dr. Charles Bernstein, a distinguished professor of medicine at the University of Manitoba and a gastroenterologist at Health Sciences Centre, said one common cause for these conditions is when the bacteria populating our bowel, called the gut microbiome, goes haywire.

“We don’t understand fully what that abnormality is and so we want to learn that,” said Dr. Bernstein.

“Understanding the diet and the microbiome of a single individual may not make a difference to pushing the knowledge forward about why these diseases exist,” he added. “But when they become one individual in a group of 200 or 500 or 1,000 than it can be very valuable.”

This particular study Dr. Bernstein is leading locally in Winnipeg, is looking for even more people than that. The Canada-wide project is called IMAGINE; that’s short for Inflammation, Microbiome and Alimentation: Gastro-Intestinal and Neuropsychiatric Effects. The goal for participants is 6,000 people all together.

Two thousand will be people living with Crohn’s, another 2,000 will be people with colitis and the last 2,000 will be otherwise healthy people for a control group.

Participants will have a visit with researchers once a year for five years. Each visit they will be questioned about their health and diet, and the aforementioned samples will be taken.

“A major aspect of the research is to explore the association between mental health and these diseases,” said Dr. Bernstein. “Anyone who has a chronic immune-inflammatory disease can ultimately develop mental health issues it can be distressing and they can be very stressed. They can ultimately become depressed or anxious and we’re trying to understand how best to deal with that.”

Paula Sturrey was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when she was 12-years-old and told CTV News the condition caused her a lot of anxiety.

"You never know when it's going to hit,” she said. “You could eat something that tastes great every single day and then one day it decides to not agree with your stomach. There is so many unknowns."

The now 34-year-old said it took about 20 years to manage her condition. For her mental health, she said seeing a clinical psychologist and doing yoga have helped her manage challenging times.

“It's been a long journey to say the least,” she said. “I am only finally feeling, in the last year, consistently really well."

She also participates in research because as a nurse she knows how it can improve patient care. 

“If you have Crohn’s, colitis or IBD -- poop is in you to give,” she said. “The more we can find out I think the further we’ll be able to progress.”

The IMAGINE study is funded through Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Research Manitoba is also a supporter.

To inquire about participating, contact Terri Jeanson, MLT, Research Assistant by email or by phone at 204-787-4701, or Jessica Steer HBA, Research Assistant by email or by phone at 204-787-8030.