KU Leuven boasts a rich tradition of education and research and the basic research orientation has always been, and will remain, fundamental research. From a basis of social responsibility and scientific expertise, KU Leuven provides high-quality, comprehensive health care, including specialised tertiary care, in its University Hospitals. KU Leuven is currently by far the largest university in Belgium in terms of research funding and expenditure. It conducts fundamental and applied research in all academic disciplines with a clear international orientation. Leuven participates in over 540 highly competitive European research projects (FP7, 2007-2013), ranking sixth in the league of HES institutions participating in FP7. Research facilities at KU Leuven are excellent: all supporting services, research infrastructure and equipment for the proposed research project are available. Scientists have full access to core facilities. This shared, high-end instrument context benefits our research purposes: timely instrument maintenance and service duties are guaranteed, and immediate technical backup is available on site, benefiting efficient scientific progress.
The Laboratory for Brain-Gut Axis Studies (LaBGAS), the research group of the PI, Prof. Dr. Lukas Van Oudenhove, is well embedded in the facilities and infrastructure of KU Leuven, and more specifically, the Translational Research Center for Gastrointestinal Disorders (TARGID) in which it is embedded. In total, there are 8 research groups within TARGID (www.targid.eu) that focus their research on diverse aspects of (functional) gastrointestinal disorders, and that have complementary research expertise in these areas. More specifically, the Gastrointestinal Sensitivity and Motility Research Group within TARGID (Prof. Dr. Jan Tack, co-PI on this application), has both long-standing expertise as well as state-of-the-art human research facilities and equipment to perform the proposed rectal stimulation studies, and our group has a long-standing track record of performing such studies in an MR environment. Finally, through a strong link between TARGID and the world renowned clinical gastroenterology department of the University Hospitals Leuven (head Prof. Dr. Jan Tack, co-PI on this application), one of the largest hospitals in Europe, we have all the possible facilities for recruitment of the irritable bowel syndrome patients. MR scanning will take place at the Medical Imaging Research Center (MIRC), a suite of neuroimaging resources in the administration of the University Hospitals Leuven where full-time support of an MR physicist as well as several nurse-radiographers dedicated to research is available. The MIRC houses a 3T Philips Achieva DStream scanner, which is exclusively dedicated to neuroimaging research, thereby guaranteeing sufficient scanner access. In addition, the MIRC recently achieved a state-of-the-art simultaneous time-of-flight General Electric Signa PET-MR system. Together with the long-standing expertise on molecular radioligand PET imaging available at the nuclear medicine and radiopharmacy groups of KU Leuven, with whom the PI of this application has a long-standing collaboration, this guarantees feasibility of the proposed PET-MR studies in this project. On both scanners, a wide variety of state-of-the-art MR sequences is supported by a dedicated team of physicists, research nurses and radiographers, including multiband/simultaneous multi-slice fMRI imaging sequences, with research agreement to use in-development sequences from academic collaborators. Other capabilities include pulsed Arterial Spin Labeling (pASL), multi-shell diffusion weighted imaging (DWI), and high-quality, rapid structural sequences. Furthermore, state-of-the-art human research facilities and equipment specifically dedicated to gastroenterology/metabolism research are available at the ACRONIM (Academic Center for Research on Nutritional health In Man) facility funded by a Hercules infrastructure grant to Prof. J. Tack (co-PI: Prof. L. Van Oudenhove). The MucPer Lab has the expertise, all the equipment and infrastructure (4 Ussing chamber setups, dissection microscope, plate reader, freezers…) required for the assessment of the in vitro and in vivo gut barrier function in humans and rodents described in the project (WP3). Since one year ago, Ricard Farré works in close collaboration with Prof. Uwe Himmelreich, the coordinator of the molecular Small Animal Imaging Centre (moSAIC) of the KU Leuven. This core facility have between other equipment (see link), a 7 Tesla horizontal bore Biospec small animal MR scanner equipped with a positron-emission tomography (PET) insert (Bruker Biospin, Ettlingen, Germany) to performed the experiments described in WP4.