NIH renews WVU digestive disease research funding

Extra $1.1 million extends project to 2013

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Five years of research by a West Virginia University School of Medicine group has resulted in a significant new understanding of how sugar and salt are absorbed in the intestine. As a result, the National Institutes of Health has issued an additional $1.1 million in funding to the researchers, extending the project to 2013.

“Glucose absorption is critical in diabetes and obesity, while sodium is important in high blood pressure,” says Uma Sundaram, M.D., the leader of WVU’s digestive disease research team. “All these conditions magnify the risk for heart attack and stroke.”

Chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes are especially prevalent in West Virginia and Appalachia, and Dr. Sundaram’s group couples this basic research with patient-based research and outreach. 

While the connection between nutrient absorption and diseases has long been known, scientists until recently have had little understanding of the mechanisms at the cellular level that regulate that process. The WVU research focuses on the role of nitric oxide, a chemical commonly found in the intestines. By applying molecular biology research tools to the problem, the team has been able to observe the effects of nitric oxide on the function of specific types of intestinal cells.

“If we can determine how nitric oxide regulates absorption of these nutrients, we can develop new approaches to all of these diseases,” Sundaram says.

The funding renewal is an indication that NIH has similar hopes for this research. Competition for renewal grants is stiff, with only a small fraction funded.

The research at WVU has resulted in 18 papers published or submitted to peer-reviewed journals since 2004. During the same time the research has also resulted in 27 presentations at the annual Digestive Disease Week, the largest gathering of digestive disease physicians and scientists from around the world.  Other research groups, both within the United States and internationally, have altered their research strategies in response to results shown here.

The original research grant from NIH in 2004 was for $1.38 million, supporting research up to 2009. The renewal grant, which extends from 2009 to 2013, supports the work of Sundaram and two other faculty scientists, Ramesh Kekuda, Ph.D., and Steven Coon, Ph.D.  Sundaram is also the principal investigator of another NIH grant for $1.4 million to study how the regulation of amino acids and glucose are affected in the context of chronic disease conditions.

Their laboratory team includes four postdoctoral fellows, Subha Arthur. Ph.D.; Palani Kumar, Ph.D.; Prosenjit Saha, Ph.D.; and Jamil Talukder, Ph.D. It also includes three digestive disease fellows, Justina Ju, M.D.; Max Miranda, M.D.; and Yevginy Ostrinsky, M.D.
For information on the WVU School of Medicine’s Digestive Diseases Section see http://www.hsc.wvu.edu/som/medicine/digestiveDiseases/research.asp.




For more information:
Andrea Brunais, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
xx: 3-9-09

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