Digestive Surgery Research Laboratory
In Focus: Genetics of Inflammatory Bowel Disease and IBD-Associated Colorectal Cancer
Susan Galandiuk, MD
Professor, Director Digestive Surgery Research Laboratory
Director, Price Institute of Surgical Research
Honorary Professor of Translational Surgical Research, Blizard Institute of Cell and Molecular Science, Barts & London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary, University of London
Out of Control: The Innate Immune System
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a debilitating autoimmune disorder that affects an estimated one million Americans. IBD is commonly subdivided into Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Symptoms of both typically begin in early adulthood. A significant complicating factor of IBD is an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
It is widely known that IBD has a genetic component—with certain individuals being predisposed towards developing it. The nature of such predisposing genetic defects are unknown at present. Elucidation of these genetic mutations remains of paramount importance in order to understand the disease process in IBD and may allow for the development of more effective treatments.
We are investigating genetic components of the innate immune system and how their function may be altered in IBD. The innate immune system is the body's first line of defense against invading microorganisms. An inflammatory response is produced when components of this system encounter a pathogenic microorganism.
The human body is constantly exposed to high levels of microorganisms—the vast majority of which are not harmful. This is especially true in the gastrointestinal tract, which is colonized by many billions of bacteria. We wish to determine whether genetic abnormalities of innate immune system components in the gut cause an inappropriate inflammatory response, which could cause the chronic inflammation characteristic of IBD.
The Big Genetic Picture
Our other main area of interest is colorectal cancer in IBD. It is unknown why certain patients develop colorectal cancer. We are utilizing "microarray" technology to identify genes that may lead to increased susceptibility to colorectal cancer. Microarrays are miniature glass slides that have been impregnated with over 30,000 human genes. They allow for an accurate picture of gene expression in both cancerous and non-cancerous colonic tissue. This type of technology may improve our understanding of this important complication of IBD.
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