NIDDK.jpgInvestigators at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine received a $6.75 million Program Project Grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) to study the role of innate immunity in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

For years, scientists have focused their attention on the role of lymphocytes and the adaptive immune system in the cause of Crohn’s disease, a chronic debilitating disease affecting more than 1 million individuals in the United States. This grant supports the investigation of a new pathogenesis, or cause of the disease, which was discovered by Fabio Cominelli, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and pathology, chief of the division of gastrointestinal and liver disease at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and director of the Digestive Health Institute at University Hospitals Case Medical Center.

Fabio ComunellaCominelli and a team of investigators in the Digestive Health Research Center, using a spontaneous mouse model of ileitis, a type of Crohn’s disease, discovered that the intestinal innate immune system may play a primary and critical role in causing the disease. The body’s innate immune system represents the first line of general defense against harmful agents and includes infection-fighting cells. In the ileitis model, they found a deficit of these cells and, as a result, harmful agents weren’t being eliminated from the body. Previously, the scientific medical community thought there was a specific component triggering a reaction within the body, much like production of an antibody in response to a particular virus, but rather it is a deficit in the body’s natural immune system.

“We are very excited about this opportunity to study this unique mouse model of IBD and make important discoveries that can be directly applied to improve patient care and developing novel therapeutic modalities for this devastating disease. We are honored that this is the first new Program Project Grant funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases since 2006 to study IBD,” commented Cominelli, who also holds the Hermann Menges Jr. Chair in Internal Medicine.

The team is working to develop a novel therapeutic drug target in order to manipulate the immune system. Based on the data, they hope to begin to develop a cure for Crohn’s disease in five to 10 years.

The team directed by Cominelli is composed of Derek Abbott, MD, assistant professor of pathology, and Dr. Theresa Pizarro, PhD, associate professor of pathology, both at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, as well as Klaus Ley, head of the Inflammation Division at the La Jolla Institute of Allergy & Immunology in San Diego.