The mission of the Belgian Inflammatory Bowel Disease Research and Development Group (BIRD) is:
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. (https://www.bwge.be)
The first Board of the IBD Research group consisted of Prof. André Van Gossum (first President), Prof. Martine De Vos, Prof. Geert D’Haens, Dr. Pierre Hoang, Professor Jacques Belaiche, Dr. Marc Van Outryve and Prof. 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 Dr Filip Baert, the “step-up top-down” study led by Prof 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 >90 active members with representation of all Belgian universities and multiple community hospitals in Flanders, Brussels 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 reorganized, now consisting of its members, a governing board, an educational committee and a scientific committee. The EduCom organizes case and topic discussions, guidelines and collaboration with the patient organisations, while SciCom evaluates study proposals and coordinates ongoing trials.
In 2020, a third committee was integrated in the structure of BIRD: BINAstoria. As the care for IBD patients is a team effort IBD nurses and study coordinators are now a full part of BIRD. Already in 2011, some nurses with a specific interest in IBD met each other during the ECCO congress in Dublin. They realized the benefits of getting organized and BINA (Belgian IBD Nurse Association) was born. In June 2017, BINA decided to merge with the subgroup Astoria (Association of Study coordinators for IBD Research center optmization). 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. Since 2022 IBD dieticians are also welcome to join BINAstoria. BINAstoria now represents >70 IBD nurses and 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 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 was launched. Since then, BIRD has organized a twice-yearly interactive symposium. The spring symposium focusses on recent advances in the field of IBD. The autumn symposium focusses more on the practical aspects of daily IBD care with state of the art lectures from international KOL and interactive workshops. The symposia are open to general gastroenterologists, trainees in gastroenterology, IBD nurses and study coordinators.
In 2019 BIRD became a legal entity that enables the conduct and sponsoring of clinical trials itself. The first BIRD-sponsored clinical trial was initiated in 2020 (RESCUE, PI Dr. Peter Bossuyt) which is a milestone in the history of BIRD. Since then, more trials are in preparation.
BIRD’s representation in ECCO, the European Crohn’s and Colitis Organisation, 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 Prof. Geert D’Haens one of the founders of ECCO, Dr. Filip Baert and Prof. Marc Ferrante and Dr. Peter Bossuyt represent(ed) ClinCom, Prof. Edouard Louis chaired the ECCO Scientific Committee, Prof. Marc Ferrante and Prof. Pieter Hindryckx, Dr. Bram Verstockt were/are active in Y-ECCO and Prof. Séverine 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 Reenaers and Triana Lobaton).
Also numerous ECCO’s guidelines have BIRD members amongst their authors’ lists. Thanks to this international representation, the collaborations also reach beyond our national borders as BIRD is currently participating clinical trials with GETAID and Dutch IBD centers and future collaborative efforts are on the way.
With the expansion of the group, BIRD also further professionalizes. In 2016, Saskia Appelmans was appointed as COO, supporting the daily operation of the BIRD. Over the last years the office team has further expanded with two CRA’s, Marjan Steppe and Laura Vansteenkiste, a Senior Project Manager and COO, Ingrid Arijs, and an Office Manager, Jennie Donaldson.
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 paves the way to success!
The BIRD board
Dr F. Baert, President
Prof JF. Rahier, Past-president
Dr P. Bossuyt, Secretary
Dr Annelies Posen, Treasurer
Dr Anneline Cremer, SciCom chair
Prof Dr Joao Sabino, EduCom chair
Miss Eveline Hoefkens, Binastoria chair
All healthcare professionals involved in the care for patients with IBD (physicians, nurses and researchers) can become a member of BIRD. The registration is free of charge and unlimited in duration. All members are encouraged to actively participate in the educational and research projects of BIRD.