A Winnipeg pediatric gastroenterologist is working find better ways to monitor inflammatory bowel diseases in children and lessen the day-to-day impacts they can have on families.

Dr. Wael El-Matary said he is most interested in researching and learning about different ways to monitor young patients, who currently have to do days of bowel prep before regular scopes to see inside the digestive tract.

“We need to be ahead of the disease, be pretty less invasive and in a less costly way,” he said, “so instead of relying on endoscopy and colonoscopy and biopsies every now and then, we are trying to find an non-evasive marker.”

Dr. El-Matary said he has recently published research into a type of blood antibody that showed some correlation to disease activity and could be helpful in predicting a patient's response to medications. He is also leading a study looking into sleeping patterns of children.

“Sleep abnormalities can be pretty common in kids with IBD but we are trying to find out whether these sleep problems can predict disease relapse in those with Crohn’s or colitis.”

He says finding new methods is important because the care for this group of diseases is expensive.

There is also an interest in purchasing a specific kind ultrasound machine that can also be used for less evasive monitoring.

“Unfortunately the disease is non-curable so we have to keep monitoring the disease to prevent the patient from having obvious relapses, hospitalization, coming to emergency, surgery, taking time off work — that’s all really bad. So if we are ahead of the game by using those tools, I am sure the results will be outstanding.”

Dr. El-Matary is also working to get an intestinal ultrasound machine in his clinic which he says would cut down the need for scopes.

He said he recently went to Europe to learn how to use the machine.

“It doesn’t need any special prep, and you can have the results immediately,” he explained.

Family affected by Crohn's Disease helping with ultrasound fundraising

Cohen Martyniuk has tried a few different treatments for his Crohn's Disease over the last few years, including a feeding tube.

The 14-year-old doesn't use it anymore, but he still goes to the hospital regularly for medication infusions and scopes.

He said preparing for the scope, which happens every six months, means a week off school to prepare.

“I have to take medicine that makes me go to the go to the washroom a lot and I have nothing left in me before hand, before the scope happens,” he said.

Meaning a parent has to be home with him, mom Nadine said Cohen's Crohn's is a big part of their lives.

“And its costly, it's a costly part of our life because we are away from work and away from school and paying for parking downtown and meals downtown,” Nadine said.

When they learned of the possibility for an intestinal ultrasound machine, they decided to raise money for its purchase.

Nadine believes the equipment could make a big difference in the way childhood inflammatory bowel diseases are monitored in Manitoba.

“No prep time, shorter appointments hopefully less time at the hospital," she said.

Cohen believes it will be better, too.

“It’ll save a lot of mental and physical strength because some kids suffer really bad side effects from the scopes,” he said.

According to the 2018 Impact of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Canada report, published by Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, the direct annual cost of caring for Canadians with IBD is estimated to be $1.28 billion.

In a separate study, Dr. El-Matary is calculating how much a childhood IBD diagnosis costs a Canadian family, including medication costs and missed days of work.

According to Crohn’s and Colitis Canada 1 in 140 Canadians lives with an inflammatory bowel disease and there are more than 7,000 Canadian children living with Crohn’s or colitis.