Researchers pursue novel therapeutic targets for inflammatory bowel disease

A group of University of Birmingham research scientists has received a prestigious Innovators Award from US-based Kenneth Rainin Foundation to fund foundational research in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).    

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There is currently no cure for IBD, which affects 2.5 million people across Europe and is increasing globally with industrialisation. It is a chronic condition with a high burden of symptoms, and severely affected people may require removal of part of the colon to control the impact of disease. 

The Innovators Award will enable the research group to investigate a promising new therapeutic target that has already been identified and patented by University of Birmingham Enterprise. 

The target is embedded in a previously unknown regulatory pathway that controls the magnitude of the inflammatory response. The pathway is believed to be pivotal in protecting inflamed tissues from excessive damage, and is disordered in conditions such as IBD, Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, all of which are characterised by chronic inflammation that destroys the patient’s own tissues.  

Normally the pathway acts to prevent excessive trafficking of T cells (white blood cells involved in inflammation) from the blood stream into tissues. There are several steps in this pathway, but Professor Ed Rainger’s group, from the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences, have discovered that the key molecule was a 14 amino acid peptide, and they dubbed the molecule PEPITEM (Peptide Inhibitor of Trans-Endothelial Migration). 

The Innovators Award will enable the group, in collaboration with Tariq Iqbal, a clinician specialising in IBD, to screen patients with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease to find out how the pathway is disordered in these diseases, and perform further studies to find out whether PEPITEM could reduce the severity of disease.  

Dr Jonathan Watkins, Head of Intellectual Property at University of Birmingham Enterprise, commented: “We identified the potential of Professor Rainger’s work at a very early stage, and it is truly exciting to be involved in the evolving research in this area. 

"The Award will fund the next chapter of the research in this pathway, which could be used to moderate the inflammatory response in a range of diseases that feature a chronic inflammatory response.” 

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