Lynda K. and David M. Underwood
As many as 70 million Americans suffer from digestive disorders. The Lynda K. and David M. Underwood Center for Digestive Disorders at Houston Methodist is making a concerted effort to remedy this problem.
Between 60 and 70 million Americans suffer from digestive disorders. Many of these conditions are highly treatable or curable. Yet, they often go undiagnosed and untreated for one critical reason: People are embarrassed to talk about them, even to a medical professional.
Sometimes telling your doctor about digestive disorders is hard to stomach.
Dr. Eamonn Quigley, David M. Underwood Chair of Medicine in Digestive Disorders and co-director of the Lynda K. and David M. Underwood Center for Digestive Disorders at Houston Methodist, has spent most of his professional life researching “gut health.” He is the immediate past president of the American College of Gastroenterology.
“Colon cancer, which is one of the most common cancers in the United States, is largely preventable through screening and early detection,” Dr. Quigley says. “Yet, despite a lot of publicity, screening is far from complete across the population. There are a lot of other disorders out there, such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis, that can be treated very effectively, yet we know from research that there is a very long delay in the diagnosis, because people are reluctant to complain about diarrhea or a change in their bowel habits.”
The main message, Dr. Quigley says, is that with early detection, the outlook for these disorders is much improved, and there are many effective therapies now.
The Underwood center, funded by a generous gift from David and Lynda Underwood, was launched in May 2013. David Underwood is Houston Methodist’s longest-serving board member, vice chair and longtime chair of the finance committee. His leadership and keen financial stewardship helped establish Houston Methodist as a financially secure, leading academic medical center. David, Lynda and their family have faithfully supported Houston Methodist, giving generously of their time, expertise and philanthropy, most recently to create the Underwood center.
Vital to the center’s effectiveness is the patient-focused care, which is done in an environment that fosters education, training and research. Through the Underwood center’s relationship with the Houston Methodist Research Institute, patients can become involved in trials of new therapies and diagnostics. The Underwood center exemplifies Houston Methodist’s core mission of education, research and patient care.
“Lynda and I saw a need in our community to provide enhanced care and research in this area, so we’re grateful to have the opportunity to provide such a service in Houston,” says Mr. Underwood, who also serves as chairman of the board of directors for the Texas Medical Center.
“PATIENT CARE IS DONE IN AN ENVIRONMENT THAT FOSTERS EDUCATION, TRAINING AND RESEARCH. THROUGH LINKAGE WITH THE RESEARCH INSTITUTE, PATIENTS CAN BECOME INVOLVED IN TRIALS OF NEW THERAPIES AND DIAGNOSTICS.
The Fondren Foundation Program for Inflammatory Bowel Disease was established in December 2013 through a generous gift from The Fondren Foundation. This support enabled the creation of the program that is focused on fully integrated patient care, education and translational research in IBD. “We are pleased to continue our long tradition of supporting the important work of Houston Methodist,” says Robert E. Fondren of The Fondren Foundation. “The Underwood Center for Digestive Diseases and the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center will provide much needed research and support for those afflicted with Crohn’s, colitis and other digestive disorders. The Fondren Foundation is proud to be a part of this important effort to find a cure for these diseases.”
The Underwood center’s integration of specialists -– including gastroenterologists, gastrointestinal and hepatobiliary surgeons, body imaging radiologists and molecular pathologists -– is crucial to effective management of disorders of the digestive system. The center was founded by Dr. Barbara Bass, John F. and Carolyn Bookout Distinguished Endowed Chair of Surgery, and Dr. Richard Robbins, Charles and Anne Duncan Distinguished Endowed Chair in Medicine at Houston Methodist. They in turn recruited Dr. Quigley.
“This integrated approach not only ensures access to the best current care, but also to therapies being developed and introduced to the clinic from our scientist and research partners,” Dr. Bass says. “Our hope is that it will be a one-stop treatment center for digestive disease and serve as a beacon for pioneering research and exemplary education for gastroenterology professionals.” Adds Dr. Robbins, “We are very grateful to David and Lynda Underwood for allowing us to realize this vision.”
Dr. Quigley says that medical science is making rapid advances in the study of “microbiota,” the microorganisms that inhabit the human digestive system. “This is the hottest area in biological science at the moment,” he says. “We already know of several instances where disturbances in the microbiota led to disease stage, and where restoring the microbiota can alleviate that disease stage.”
STUDYING “GUT FLORA” OR “MICROBIOTA” IS THE HOTTEST AREA IN BIOLOGICAL SCIENCE AT THE MOMENT, ACCORDING TO DR. QUIGLEY. HE SAYS, “RESTORING THE MICROBIOTA CAN ALLEVIATE DISEASE.”
The classic example is what happens when we take antibiotics, says Dr. Quigley, and we’re learning more and more about changes in the microbiota that may well play a role in the causation or the continuation of diseases such as colitis, Crohn’s disease, fatty liver and other liver diseases. “It’s not very far away when we will be able to give specific therapies to modulate microbiota, to restore it to ‘normal’ and hopefully alleviate the condition,” he says.
Dr. Quigley works with biomarkers to improve diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome. “Right now, the only way we can diagnose irritable bowel syndrome is by excluding other conditions that might cause the same symptoms,” Dr. Quigley says.
“There has been a concerted effort to identify physical changes, which might better identify patients with irritable bowel syndrome without several negative tests.”
One of the most controversial areas in the treatment of digestive disorders has been the subtle relationship between psychological and biological conditions. The Underwood center is pursuing an integrative approach to treatment, working in tandem with dietitians from the Houston Methodist Wellness Center as well as evaluating psychological factors. For decades, doctors assumed that disorders originated in the patient’s mental state and then manifested physically. “I want to say very firmly that is not the case. There’s been a major shift away from that idea,” Dr. Quigley explains. He believes that Houston Methodist’s ability to provide comprehensive care makes the Underwood center unique.
“The center’s state-of-the-art diagnostic and therapeutic facilities and personnel set Houston Methodist apart,” he says. “Gastroenterology and digestive surgery collaborate hand-in-hand with imaging, pathology, allied diagnostics and other disciplines. We have the ability to pull together a whole range of diagnostic and therapeutic options and to have those handled by people who really are experts in the field.”
For more information about the services available at the Underwood center, or to schedule an appointment, call 713.441.9770 or visit houstonmethodist.org/underwood-center .