Research and treatment centres across the country are coming together to form Canada's first national network dedicated to Crohn's disease and colitis, the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease.

The new network, called Promoting Access and Care through Centres of Excellence (PACE), will be the largest Canadian network for patients living with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Approximately 250,000 Canadians live with either of the two diseases, according to Crohn's and Colitis Canada.

PACE is an effort to combine different areas of expertise and close gaps in research and care, Crohn's and Colitis Canada CEO Mina Mawani said in a statement.

"There are all these centres of excellence across Canada and we wanted to connect them all in a network," Mawani told

"We're really thinking about how they can work together and share best practices and knowledge across those five centres, and disseminate that knowledge to gastroenterologists across the country."

The five participating centres are: Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital, the University of Calgary, the University of Alberta, McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., and the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal.

The network will operate on a four-year model. In the first year, each participating centre will conduct its own research. Then, the centres will work together to develop skills in all areas.

Some of the goals of the network include: developing a telemedicine model to deliver care to patients living in remote areas, standardizing clinical practices and treatments across the country, implementing an electronic platform to monitor patients' health between clinic visits, and measuring any improvements in patient outcomes that stem from the PACE network.

Dr. Geoffrey Nguyen, Clinician Scientist at Mount Sinai's IBD centre, was chosen to head PACE.

He says that the new network will allow doctors to better serve Canadians living with Crohn's or colitis.

"PACE provides a platform to share and strengthen our knowledge in order to improve patient outcomes," he said.

Crohn's and Colitis Canada, AbbVie Corporation, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Takeda Canada are investing an initial $2.5 million in PACE. The network plans to eventually add more centres over time, Mawani said.

"This is really an initial injection of funds," she said. "We'd love to see a centre of excellence in B.C., in the eastern provinces and central Canada."

Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects parts of gastrointestinal tract. Patients with Crohn's have inflamed patches of the gastrointestinal tract, interspersed between healthy portions. Common symptoms include abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, fever and weight loss. There is currently no cure for Crohn's.

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease involving the inflammation of the colon. Colitis typically only impacts the inner lining of bowel tissue. Symptoms include severe and bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, weight loss, mild fever, and false urges to have a bowel movement. Colitis can be controlled with medication, often steroids, and, in some cases, can be cured by surgical removal of the entire large intestine.