05/19/2008

WVU research team clones genes responsible for amino acid absorption

Discovery could lead to new treatments for inflammatory bowel disease

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Researchers at the West Virginia University School of Medicine have discovered ways to block substances that interfere with absorption of nutrients in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), according to Uma Sundaram, M.D., Section Chief of Digestive Diseases at WVU.

“The most important step before development of drugs that could replace steroids in treating this chronic condition is to find out the specific bodily immune substance that causes the problem.  This is the focus our research,” Dr. Sundaram said. “Our lab has shown for the first time not only how an important building block of proteins, glutamine, is absorbed, but also we have cloned a gene responsible for this absorption.  And most important, we have shown how the absorption of this important nutrient is affected in IBD.”

Details of these discoveries are included in one of nine presentations by Sundaram's research team at the Digestive Disease Week (DDW) conference in San Diego, Calif.  The DDW conference began May 17 and continues through May 22.  It’s described as the world's largest gathering of its type involving physicians and researchers. 

The most common chronic disease affecting the human small intestine, IBD affects more than a million people in this country and many more millions around the world.

“In the majority of cases of inflammatory bowel disease, patients are unable to properly assimilate chemicals, water and nutrients that are critical for daily life,” Sundaram said. 

Sundaram described the WVU lab’s breakthroughs as akin to looking for a needle in a haystack in identifying which mediators interfere with what substance the body needs to absorb.

"We have found the needle for a few of the big ones such as how fat, glucose, salt and glutamine absorption is affected," he said.  “The next step would be to find specific treatments for inflammatory bowel disease that avoid all the complications of steroids and other drugs currently available.”

Sundaram said these discoveries may have equally important implications for conditions such as obesity, which is a serious health concern in West Virginia.

The digestive disease research is funded with National Institutes of Health grants totaling almost $5 million over five years. Five of the research team’s papers were published earlier this year in the American Journal of Physiology.

For more information on the WVU Healthcare and digestive diseases, visit www.hsc.wvu.edu/som/medicine/digestiveDiseases/.

- WVU -


08-083
For more information:
Andrea Brunais, HSC News Service, (304) 293-7087
brunaisa@wvuh.com
ab: 05-19-08

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