Changing Lives Through Groundbreaking Science

Using robust scientific and lay review, in the 2023 cycle, the GI Research Foundation awarded $550,000 to six investigators at the University of Chicago for novel research projects.

2023 Competitive Grant Cycle Awards

Using robust scientific and lay review, in the 2023 cycle, the GI Research Foundation awarded $550,000 to six investigators at the University of Chicago for novel research projects.

The Projects

Reprogramming stem cells to heal inflammation

Researcher: Cambrian Liu, PhD
Award: $100,000

The promise of regenerative medicine is to unlock the body’s full potential for healing. This grant supports Dr. Liu’s continuing work to develop new methods to visualize, identify, and reprogram stem cells as next-generation treatments for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). These stem cells could activate novel aspects of tissue healing to break the vicious cycle of intestinal wounding and inflammation. Furthermore, this study continues the investigation of a new hypothesis – that the chronic nature of IBD is tied to a pathological set of stem cells that, if not corrected, continue to generate the wrong types of immune cells and fail to initiate a sufficient healing response.

Understanding the role of gut inflammation as a cause of anxiety and depression in IBD

Researchers: David T. Rubin, MD and Ashley Sidebottom, PhD
Award: $100,000

Continued study of the biological reasons for the connection between IBD and depression and anxiety will significantly improve disease diagnosis and management. This award supports the study of biological explanations for the connection between IBD and anxiety and depression. Patients with IBD have an increased risk of anxiety and depression. Bowel inflammation affects the important blood-brain barrier, separating circulating chemicals and proteins in the blood from the central nervous system (CNS). Inflammation is associated with a leaky blood-brain barrier.  Paired with the evolving understanding of gut microbiome changes that occur with inflammation, these discoveries contribute to a developing hypothesis that the changes in the gut microbiome in the setting of bowel inflammation may contribute to substantial alterations in circulating neurotransmitters which directly affect the CNS and impact mood.

How tumor genetics and diet impact colorectal cancer recurrence

Researchers: Benjamin Shogan, MD and Tao Pan, PhD
Award: $100,000

Colorectal cancer (CRC) recurs in about 30% of patients, almost always with lethal consequences. Advancing the understanding of the connection between diet, bile acids and colorectal cancer recurrence could help prevent it and save lives. We do not have a clear understanding of how the genetic makeup of tumors in conjunction with gut bacteria and bile acid compositions drives recurrence. This grant supports the investigation of a previously under-explored aspect in cancer biology that deals with genetic- and diet-dependence in tumor formation and metastasis after tumor removal.  Most effective tumor treatments target multiple cellular mechanisms.

Optimizing the gut environment for better health

Researchers: Bozhi Tian, PhD and Jiping Yue, MD
Award: $100,000

Think of your healthy gut microbiome as a garden.  To flourish it needs good soil.  Using a multidisciplinary approach to understand and optimize the use of soil-inspired materials (the foundation in and on which to health gut bacteria can grow and thrive) for balancing the gut microbiota, this award seeks to improve overall human health. Dr. Tan and Dr. Yue have developed a class of soil-inspired materials that can regulate gut microbes; yet additional study is needed to understand how the porous structure of these materials affects microbial communities, their growth and metabolism. The study will investigate the effects on the gut microbiota and on gastrointestinal (GI) health indicators.

How targeting cell aging could open new treatments for IBD

Researcher: Yanchun Li, PhD
Award: $100,000

Dr. Li has recently discovered that acetate produced from gut bacteria helps prevent colon epithelial aging, which may point to a new therapeutic approach for IBD. With this grant, Dr. Li will pursue a hypothesis based on a recent discovery that colonic epithelial senescence, or colonic aging, is a common feature of colitis in both mouse colitis models and human IBD.  The inflammatory molecules produced from the aging epithelial cells directly contribute to mucosal inflammation.

Loss of tolerance to commensal microbiota in the context of celiac disease: implications for disease development and progression

Researcher: Valerie Abadie, PhD
Award: $50,000

Celiac disease (CeD) is a complex intestinal inflammatory disorder brought about when genetically susceptible individuals eat gluten. Because only a small fraction of genetically susceptible individuals develop the disease after eating gluten, other environmental factors may contribute to developing CeD. Strong contenders are alterations in gut microbiota composition and function, especially loss of beneficial bacteria and increases in potentially harmful ones.

When tolerance to the normal flora that lives in our digestive tract is disrupted, inflammation can be the result. This project will focus on understanding whether there is a loss of tolerance to the normal bacteria in celiac patients at different stages of the disease. This study will help us understand whether the gut microbiota contributes to development and/or progression of celiac and could lead to the identification of new predictive markers for the screening of at-risk patients.

“Using a combination of scientific and lay review, the GI Research Foundation has awarded $500,000 in grants. We are so proud and privileged to be in partnership with the UChicago Medicine’s Digestive Diseases Center. Our competitive grant program supports novel research projects led by its investigators. This partnership provides us with extraordinary opportunities to be a first-in funder of groundbreaking ideas and has resulted in millions in funding from the National Institutes of Health. We are excited about the promise of these funded projects.”

Biana Lanson, MD

Vice President of Research Grantmaking, GI Research Foundation