Crohn’s disease is a serious chronic inflammatory bowel disease that harms the digestive tract and the cells lining the digestive tract, which are called epithelial cells. This condition can be life-threatening and leads to anemia, weight loss, fatigue and abdominal pain.
My lab’s research focuses on Crohn’s disease and the epithelial cells lining the intestine. We have developed ways to grow intestinal epithelial cells in a dish so that we can study how specific patients’ cells are affected by disease, diet or microbes. Overall, we are attempting to discover how intestinal epithelial cells work in an environment that is healthy compared to an environment that is diseased or injured, like in Crohn’s disease.
I first began studying intestinal stem cells in graduate school. My research focused on how these stem cells make choices that lead them to become one of the many types of mature intestinal epithelial cells, all of which are needed to have a healthy gut. I became fascinated with intestinal stem cells.
During my postdoctoral work, I continued to research intestinal stem cells, but in the context of Crohn’s disease. Along with my collaborators, I developed one of the first protocols to grow human intestinal epithelial cells in a dish, otherwise known as primary intestinal epithelial cell culture. With our method, the cultured intestinal stem cells renew rapidly and produce more daughter cells. Having a large number of epithelial cells allows us to perform certain research techniques that require a lot of cells, like screening a library of candidate factors that might affect stem cell function. Currently, I have more than 15 years of experience in intestinal epithelium research.
More recently, my research lab has begun to study one of the mature cell types of the intestinal epithelium called enterocytes. Enterocytes are important for the digestion and absorption of nutrients we receive from our diets. These cells can also sense changes in diet, microbes that live in the gut, and other signals in their environment and communicate this information to neighboring cells. We are using a translational approach to study enterocytes in patients who are healthy or have Crohn’s disease and in experimental models, like our primary intestinal epithelial cell culture system. Our goal is to learn how to stimulate the healthy activities of intestinal epithelial cells to prevent disease and promote healing.
I joined the team at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 2018 and am currently funded by a K01 mentored career award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). My research has been published in prestigious journals such as Development, the EMBO Journal and Gastroenterology.