Faculty Awarded NIH Grant to Study IBD Therapy

The National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) has awarded Duke Anesthesiology’s Luis Ulloa, PhD, MS, and Wei Yang, PhD, FAHA, a two-year $442,750 R21 grant for their project titled, “Vagal Control of Tissue SUMOylation as a Novel Anti-Inflammatory Target in IBD.” This project is built on the collaborative work between Drs. Jorn Karhausen, Yang and Ulloa.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic, debilitating condition that affects millions of people for which there is currently no definitive cure. Limiting inflammatory cell recruitment is a key focus in the search for new therapies in IBD. Previous work has documented that enhanced conjugation with Small Ubiquitin-like MOdifiers (SUMO) within the intestinal epithelium effectively blunts intestinal inflammation through broad reprogramming of responses regulating the tissue influx of immune cells. However, the physiologic mechanisms regulating SUMOylation remain unknown, limiting the ability to harness this endogenous, protective mechanism for experimental and therapeutic use. In this project, the collaborative team will test the hypothesis whether the vagus nerve modulates intestinal SUMOylation as a critical anti-inflammatory mechanism of the brain-gut axis.

Completion of this project is expected to not only greatly enhance the understanding of vagal control of the immune system in the brain-gut axis, but also lay the foundation to the greater acceptance and improved targeting of bioelectric medicine in IBD therapy.

Ulloa is the director of Duke Anesthesiology’s Center for Perioperative Organ Protection. Yang is the director of both the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory and the Multidisciplinary Brain Protection Program within the department.