The inaugural 2015 AGA-CCFA-Janssen Research Award in Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Epigenetics Research was recently awarded by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), in partnership with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) and Janssen Biotech, Inc. (Janssen). The association announced that Theresa Alenghat, VMD, PhD will be granted $100,000 per year for three years to study the role of epigenetics in the development of IBD.
The award winning investigator works at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, OH and her research is the first to receive this recognition and financial support. Epigenetics refers to DNA and DNA-related proteins alterations that result from patient and environmental factors, a field that is thought to contribute to the development of novel reversible and targeted treatments for patients who suffer from ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, the two most common forms of IBD.
“With this grant, I will have the resources to conduct both basic and translational research initiatives to test how bacteria trigger changes in the epigenome during the development of IBD,” said in a press release Dr. Alenghat, who serves as assistant professor in the division of immunobiology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “These novel insights may guide the development of more effective and tailored therapeutic approaches for managing IBD.”
Epigenetics is a field of increasing interest in research for not only IBD but also numerous other diseases. Epigenomic alterations are able to regulate gene expression when triggered by environmental factors, but they don’t alter the genetic sequence. Therefore, Dr. Alenghat’s research will be focused on dysregulation of epigenomic modifications, which she will test together with alterations in the microbiota to understand if the combination drives the development and progression of IBD.
The institutions that attributed the award are confident that Dr. Alenghat’s investigations may help the over 1.6 million patients diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis in the USA. There is currently no cure for this type of disease that affects the digestive system and causes abdominal pain, persistent diarrhea, rectal bleeding, fever, fatigue and weight loss, but both the American Gastroenterological Association and the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America are two of the most active parts in supporting research to find better treatments and a cure for the disease.
The three parts had announced this award opportunity in February 2015, as they continue their efforts separately as well. Last May, the CCFA launched the world’s largest IBD research database, called IBD Plexus. The knowledge platform aims to aggregate and centralize patient information for a wide range of research efforts in order to accelerate progress in treating the disease through novel research and precision medication to achieve more accurate diagnoses, treatments and eventual cures for IBD.
Janssen is also actively working to improve the quality of life of IBD patients, and the company recently signed a license agreement with Vedanta Biosciences to acquire the rights for an investigational therapeutic alternative for the treatment of IBD in the beginning of the year. The novel IBD drug VE202 has been developed by Vedanta and is expected to modify the way in which the body’s immune system and microbes interact with one another. Even though it has yet to be tested in human trials, the experimental therapy has revealed its efficacy in previous preclinical studies conducted in both animals and models of autoimmune diseases.