UVa Health System wins renewal of $6.2 million grant for Crohn's disease research


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Oct. 20, 2005-- A federal grant to The Digestive Health Center of Excellence at the University of Virginia Health System to study the cause of Crohn's disease has been renewed for another five years. The $6.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) came after a competitive review process. It will allow UVa to continue groundbreaking work using a mouse model, which closely resembles Crohn's disease in humans.

"This grant recognizes UVa as one of the premier centers for the study of inflammatory bowel disease in the U.S. and worldwide," said Dr. Fabio Cominelli, chief of gastroenterology at the UVa Health System and a leading Crohn's expert. "Our goal is to discover the cause of spontaneous intestinal inflammation in animals and apply this information to patients with the final goal of developing a cure for at least a subgroup of patients with Crohn's disease. I am extremely excited and proud that the NIH has recognized the accomplishments of our team during the last five years and granted us the funds and opportunity to continue our innovative work to discover the cause of this devastating disease."

Crohn's is a chronic, often debilitating, disease characterized by ulcerations and inflammatory lesions throughout the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms include severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and general malaise. Experts say more than 600,000 people in the U.S., and millions worldwide, suffer from Crohn's. Right now there is no cure; available treatments only relieve symptoms and sometimes have significant side effects.

The NIH grant will fund a multi-disciplinary program involving five different departments at the UVa Health System. Cominelli is the Principal Investigator. He's joined by Marcia McDuffie, PhD, Steven Cohn, MD, Klaus Ley, MD and Theresa Pizarro, PhD.

Cominelli said the grant renewal will help UVa to continue attracting young investigators from around the world to the field of mucosal intestinal immunology. Today, Crohn's disease researchers at UVa are discovering and characterizing new genes for Crohn's. They are also discovering new targets for drugs, such as novel cytokines, the intestinal epithelium, adhesion molecules and defensins. "This grant will allow us to make these discoveries and develop new ways to diagnose the disease in predisposed individuals as well as develop new treatments that will improve the quality of life for our patients," Cominelli said.

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