The IBD Research Group, as the BIRD group was originally called, was founded On March 7th, 1998 by Professor Paul Rutgeerts. The primary aim of the group was to stimulate research in inflammatory bowel disease. Other aims that were put forward were to increase the knowledge about the epidemiology and course of IBD, to develop protocols for clinical studies which could be performed in collaboration in Belgium, to organize teaching events on the disease and all its aspects and to collaborate with IBD patient organisations.
After several meetings at the Sodehotel in Woluwe, Hotel Abbeye (‘t Wit Paard) in Grimbergen was chosen as a central place in Belgium to organize the general assembly, which is held 3 times per year. Once per year, the IBD Research Group meetings coincided (and still does) with the Belgian Week of Gastroenterology.
The first Board of the IBD Research group consisted of Professor André Van Gossum (first President), Professor Martine De Vos, Professor Geert D’Haens, Dr. Pierre Hoang, Professor Jacques Belaiche, Dr. Marc Van Outryve and Professor Daniel Urbain. Over the years, the group proved to be very successful in all its predefined aims: so were protocols about patient management chaired and harmonized throughout Belgium, and also were a number of pivotal investigator-initiated studies formed and executed with success. Some of these studies now are considered as pivotal trials in the field of Gastroenterology: the placebo-controlled trial with budesonide for lymphocytic colitis led by Filip Baert, the “step-up top-down” study led by Geert D’Haens, the use of calprotectin as biomarker in the follow up of infliximab lead by Martine De Vos. The group was also actively involved in the Tailorix study, the first prospective study investigating if a trough level based management of infliximab is superior than a management based on clinical symptoms.
What started in 1998 with really a handful of enthusiastic individuals has led now to a group of not less than 70 active members with representation of all Belgian universities and larger community hospitals in Flanders and Wallonia. With a growing number of members, the group also changed name in 2009 from IBD Research Group to BIRD: the Belgian IBD Research and Development group.
By the end of 2016, BIRD was reorganised, now consisting out of its members, a governing board, an EDUCom and SCICom. EDUCom, chaired by Filip Baert, organizes case and topic discussions, guidelines and collaboration with the patient organisations while SCICom, chaired by Peter Bossuyt, evaluates study proposals and coordinates ongoing trials.
The care for IBD patients is a team effort, so we were very happy that our organisation is also strengthened by incorporation of BINAstoria. Some nurses with a specific interest in IBD met each other in February 2011, during the ECCO congress in Dublin. They also realized the benefits of getting organized and BINA was born. In June 2017, BINA decided to merge with the subgroup Astoria (Association of STudy coordinatOrs for IBD Research center optImizAtion). A brand new name was chosen: BINAstoria (Belgian IBD nurses and study coordinators association) which is a national IBD association connecting IBD nurses and IBD study coordinators.
For several years now, the BIRD group also has a formal program during the Belgian Week of Gastroenterology, with one half day dedicated to basic science and one half day to clinical aspects of IBD care. Both programs offer a lot of original free papers presented by the upcoming IBD specialists in Belgium and therefore represents an excellent forum for young trainees to interact and be stimulated in this exciting field of research!
As of 2018, the first national BIRD symposium is launched. This first edition, ‘Continuing Research, Extending Care’ will be a one day Symposium with an inspiring combination of key lectures and interactive workshops. The Symposium is open to general gastroenterologists, trainees in gastroenterology, IBD nurses and study coordinators.
BIRD’s representation in ECCO, the European Crohn’s and colitis Organization, goes back to the origin of the European Society. Indeed, several members of BIRD have played or are playing important functions within ECCO. So was Geert D’Haens one of the founders of ECCO, Filip Baert and Marc Ferrante represent(ed) ClinCom, Edouard Louis chaired the ECCO Scientific Committee, Marc Ferrante and Pieter Hindryckx were active in Y-ECCO and Severine Vermeire has been President of ECCO. Two members of BIRD represent ECCO as National representatives (Past, Denis Franchimont, Filip Baert and Peter Bossuyt; today Catherine Renaerts and Pieter Dewint).
Also numerous ECCO’s guidelines have BIRD members amongst their authors’ list. Thanks to this international representation, the collaborations also reach beyond our national borders as BIRD is currently participating in no less than three GETAID trials and future collaborative efforts are on the way.
As you will have noticed, the future of IBD in Belgium is secured and most gratitude goes to the original “godfathers” who –back in 1998 already- believed that collaboration is the way to success!
The BIRD board
Prof JF. Rahier, President
Prof P. Hindryckx, Secretary
Prof M. Ferrante, Treasurer
Prof D. Franchimont, Past-President
Dr F. Baert, EduCom chair
Dr P. Bossuyt, SciCom chair