Importance of Microbiome, Disease Prevention Among Topics to Be Discussed at DDW 2022

Digestive Disease Week (DDW) 2022, held virtually and in San Diego, California, from May 21 to 24, will feature research and presentations exploring new ways to prevent and treat digestive diseases.

Investigators in the field of digestive disease and members of societies including the American Gastroenterological Association, American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, and American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, convene each year during Digestive Disease Week (DDW) to present the latest findings in digestive disease.

This year, with the meeting welcoming in-person attendance for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, topics discussed and debated at DDW from May 21 to 24 will include the gut/brain/microbiome axis, the possibility of preventing or reversing disease, the importance of whole-person treatment, and more.

The Complex Impact of the Microbiome on Health

Recent years have seen increasing awareness of and research on the gut microbiome, or the community of microorganisms found in the digestive system, and its impact on disease states ranging from type 2 diabetes to allergic disease. DDW 2022 will feature a number of sessions and abstracts on the microbiome, including a symposium on gut microbiota as a biomarker of digestive health and overall nutrition, as well as a lecture on the potential harms of pursuing optimal gut health.

Restoring the microbiome can be an objective of treatment for Clostridioides difficile infection, and abstracts will discuss the promising results of new therapies in accomplishing this goal. Additionally, investigators previewing their findings in a press call ahead of the meeting noted that the microbiome is implicated in the discovery that antibiotic treatment may be a risk factor for development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in older patients.

Recovery of Patients and Physicians After COVID-19

COVID-19 and its ramifications are inescapable as a topic of discussion at every major medical meeting, and DDW 2022 will be no exception. As the United States shifts its approach to the pandemic, more research is focusing on the long-term effects of both the disease itself and its disruption of normal life. A State-of-the-Art Lecture at DDW will explore how alcohol use disorder may have impacted liver health in the United States over the past 2 years and how hepatologists can help their patients recover post pandemic.

Physician practices may also need to recover from the financial challenges posed by the pandemic, so lectures will aim to advise clinicians on how to recover their work-life balance, navigate the new normal of telehealth, and successfully encourage patients to return to the physician’s office.

Moving Upstream From Treatment to Reversal and Prevention

DDW 2022 will feature a plethora of abstracts and lectures on new methods of treating disease, but the program also reveals an emphasis on reversing established disease or even preventing it from occurring at all. Speakers at a symposium will discuss how diet and lifestyle changes, microbiome health, and drugs such as aspirin may be harnessed to prevent the development of gastrointestinal cancers.

The potential of prevention is not limited to cancer, as other sessions will cover prevention of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. Even if disease cannot be prevented, researchers are aiming to reverse its effects, as will be discussed in a lecture on how weight loss therapies may help to reverse the trajectory of NAFLD.

Whole-Person Treatment of Digestive Disease

Several sessions at DDW 2022 will focus on holistically understanding the patient at the center of digestive disease in order to best predict risk and support the patient’s needs. For instance, a lecture about the “food environment” aims to explore how a person’s genes, gastrointestinal phenotype, environment, and diet all collide to contribute to their risk of obesity. There will also be a symposium discussing how health disparities—including structural violence, racial inequities, and discrimination—influence the human microbiome and colorectal cancer risk.

Keeping the whole patient in mind is key to successful treatment, not just identifying elevated risk. A lecture will educate attendees on the serious psychological impacts of living with IBD, which can include sleep disturbances, anxiety, and even posttraumatic stress disorder, and how patients can learn to manage these impacts through the help of therapy.

Harnessing AI and Tech for Treatment and Practice Management

Numerous abstracts will present findings on the use and outcomes of telehealth among patients with digestive diseases, including adherence to pre-endoscopy consultations performed virtually vs in person and patient satisfaction with video visits for conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease and IBD.

In addition to the discussions of telehealth as a continuing presence beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, other sessions will address how digital technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) can help practitioners and patients. A symposium will feature presentations on the use of AI in colonoscopy, upstream patient identification, medical record maintenance, and more. Another lecture will focus on the use of robotic technologies in endoscopy and the potential of AI to assess IBD severity.