Research-rich career changes lives far beyond cellular level
Eugene Greenberg, MD, epitomizes clinical research that helps patients live better lives. Especially those with complicated and debilitating inflammatory bowel diseases or IBDs.
The longtime patient advocate is celebrating 50 years at Carle by looking back—at his early days when Carle was a much smaller, much different organization—and by looking forward.
“For the first time, I can see light at the end of tunnel for the cure that has eluded us,” Dr. Greenberg said. “It’s what keeps me practicing. Because we’re continually learning, I’m a better physician today than I was 10 years ago, and I don’t want to miss the celebration at the end.”
Those celebrating with him might want to wait until after the cake to delve into the gastroenterologist’s passion: microbiomes and their role in wellness and disease.
“If a human was just pure DNA, he or she would be about 90 percent bacteria,” said Dr. Greenberg, explaining research that focuses on what triggers bacteria production in the digestive system, causing inflammation, pain and chronic diarrhea.
“It can be hard to talk about Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and other conditions because nobody likes to talk about bodily functions.
"We tend to whisper the word ‘diarrhea.’”
So he talks about helping patients with his team and by doing research that makes a difference.
“The drug research we started decades ago is important because it allows our patients access to newer medications in the pipeline,” Dr. Greenberg said.
Cost plays a huge role.
“By having research here at Carle, we can offer patients top-of-the-line drugs, and they don’t have to pay for them.” When that happens, “Lives change dramatically,” he said.
Dr. Greenberg’s life work is impactful to patients and their families, with the digestive health team serving about 5,000 patients a year.
“Dr. Greenberg has been an integral part of bringing cutting-edge treatment studies to Carle,” said Simon Crass, MD, a gastroenterologist and Digestive Health Institute colleague. “This has allowed for access to the newest and most innovative treatment options for GI (gastrointestinal) patients in the region.”
One of the most important changes Dr. Greenberg has seen during his career is the joining of clinical forces to tackle some of people’s biggest health challenges.
“We’ve developed the awareness that these diseases require a community of treatment, not just one physician. It takes nurses, dieticians, social workers and more,” Dr. Greenberg said.
Speaking of more, Greenberg’s family pledged $1 million in 2014 to launch the Dr. Eugene Greenberg Digestive Health Institute, which focuses on specialized digestive health services, technical advancements and clinical trials.
"I always dreamed Carle would have a digestive health institute to bring great care and research to our patients. I just never thought it would have my name on it," Dr. Greenberg said.
He encourages people to consider being part of clinical research, while understanding why many don’t.
“They don’t want to be treated like a lab animal,” he said. “The reality is we know these treatments are safe, effective and worth pursuing. And they are closely monitored for success and ethics.”
Those successes matter, and they build on themselves during a decades-long career.
Today, drugs and treatments don’t just provide relief. They put IBD into deep remission that’s less likely to recur. Deep remission means less cancer, a common result of untreated or poorly controlled IBDs.
“IBD is usually marked by remissions and flare-ups that cause ongoing damage to the intestines, causing bigger problems later. With our advances, we’re actually now able to take people with severe ulcerative and abnormal mucosa and heal them to the point they’re back to normal,” Dr. Greenberg said.
“And when we do that, we’re able to help people feel and function better today, avoid complications later and improve quality of life.”