Research and Innovation

Many children and adolescents with GI disorders have painful and often embarrassing symptoms while others endure debilitating conditions that threaten their life and their way of living. Although some therapies provide temporary relief, long-term solutions often remain merely a hope.

Pediatric GI research is vital, as gastrointestinal disorders are very common among children, have a tremendous impact on the quality of life of affected patients and their families, and have enormous financial cost.

In addition to outstanding clinical care, GI research is also a priority at Nationwide Children’s. Clinicians and scientists currently receive more than $5 million annually in external funding to perform gastrointestinal research.

Feeding Disorders

For some babies in the neonatal intensive care unit, eating doesn’t come naturally. Any infant that fails to eat orally is considered to have feeding difficulty. It’s these babies that are most at risk for lifelong feeding issues and assisted feeding methods.

Feeding difficulties can arise from a combination of gastrointestinal, esophageal, behavioral, neurological, structural, cardiorespiratory and metabolic origins. Using crib-side feeding studies, investigators at Nationwide Children's are identifying the mechanisms of feeding difficulties in neonates and young infants. These studies help transform babies into oral feeders before they leave the hospital, sparing them a lifetime of tube-assisted feedings.

Nationwide Children's is home to the only program in the world taking a multi-organ perspective to understand development of feeding disorders.

Learn more about our research by visiting the Center for Perinatal Research website.

GI Developmental Biology

A great deal remains to be learned about the biology of intestinal development. Using in vitro cell culture models and animal models of disease, investigators are examining how the gastrointestinal tract develops normally and how gastrointestinal diseases develop and evolve at the molecular level. Studies are providing insight into intestinal epithelial biology and mechanisms controlling the development of the enteric nervous system, which directly controls the gastrointestinal system. 

Faculty Focused on GI Developmental Biology Research

  • Cheryl E. Gariepy, MD
  • Jonathan Gisser, MD
Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are unpredictable, chronic conditions characterized by inflammation in the intestines. The most common symptoms in children include frequent diarrhea, abdominal pain, and weight loss or growth delay.

There is no cure for IBD, so the focus of treatment is on controlling the inflammation that causes the symptoms. Corticosteroids are frequently used, and they often have negative side effects such as weight gain, acne, hair growth, irritability, depression, emotional ability, and sleep difficulty.

As IBD can result in sometimes embarrassing symptoms, the disease presents many potential challenges to psychosocial adjustment.

Investigators are examining the effects current treatments have of IBD patients, while searching for alternative treatments.  They are also investigating how IBD patients adjust behaviorally, emotionally and socially to their disease and how psychosocial factors impact symptom severity.

Faculty Focused on IBD Research

  • Brendan M. Boyle, MD
  • Ryan S. Carvalho, MD
  • Wallace V. Crandall, MD
  • Jennifer L. Dotson, MD
  • Laura Mackner, PhD
Liver Disease

Approximately 15,000 hospitalizations occur each year for pediatric liver disease in the United States. Faculty at Nationwide Children’s are working to better understand how liver disease develops in children and working toward improved treatments and possible vaccines.

Specifically, investigators are studying the mechanisms that cause cirrhosis, one of the most common fibrotic liver diseases.  Studies focus on connective tissue growth factor (CTGF), a protein important in tissue development and healing, and its role in fibrotic diseases. Findings are intended to help determine the therapeutic value of targeting CTGF pathways to treat fibrotic disorders.

As many as 1 in 250 children are infected with hepatitis C in the United States. Hepatitis C virus infection most often becomes a chronic condition that can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. Investigators at Nationwide Children’s are also studying how immune responses are subverted in this viral infection, work that may contribute to hepatitis C vaccine development.  They are also investigating vertical transmission of the virus from mothers to their newborn infants.

Faculty Focused on Liver Disease Research

  • David R. Brigstock, PHD
  • Jonathan R. Honegger, MD
  • Carol J. Potter, MD
  • Christopher M. Walker, PhD
Motility Disorders

Children may view food as an enemy when their body is not able to effectively move it from the mouth into the lower digestive tract. Patients with motility disorders experience abnormal and often ineffective intestinal contractions that can lead to severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation and poor digestion.

Using evidence-based research, investigators are learning more about mechanisms involved in moving food through the digestive tract and are using nuclear medicine to understand how the colon works. Studies are providing new information to inform diagnosis, enhance treatment and predict and improve outcomes of motility disorders.

Faculty Focused on Motility Disorders Research

  • Carlo Di Lorenzo, MD
  • Sudarshan R. Jadcherla, MD, FRCP(I), DCH
  • Desale Yacob, MD
Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Primarily seen in premature infants, necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is the most common and most serious gastrointestinal disorder among hospitalized preterm infants. Despite improvements in clinical care and many previous clinical trials, the prognosis for newborns with NEC has not shown any significant improvement during the past 30 years and the mortality rate remains unchanged.  

Investigators at Nationwide Children’s Hospital are focused on protecting the intestines from NEC, primarily by investigating molecular triggers and developing potential therapeutic targets such as growth factors that may serve as cytoprotective agents against intestinal damage.

Learn more about our research by visiting the Center for Perinatal Research website.

Neonatal Nutrition and Maternal Factors

Nutrition is vital, especially in the first couple weeks of life, as nutrition leads to weight gain. Without proper weight gain, newborns are at risk for delays in mental development.  

Investigators are examining the effects nutritional factors related to infant growth and development, especially related to human milk. They are also studying the effects early maternal conditions and maternal nutrition have on infant growth and development.

Learn more about our research by visiting the Center for Perinatal Research website.

Polyposis

Juvenile polyposis syndrome is an inherited condition that is characterized by the development of hamartomatous polyps throughout the digestive tract. This syndrome is known for its unpredictability.

Genetic mistakes in two genes (BMPR1A and SMAD4) have been linked to roughly half of the families with this syndrome meaning other causative genes remain to be identified.  

Faculty members at Nationwide Children’s are focused on learning more about how polyposis develops in order to improve diagnosis, treatment and prevention strategies.

Faculty Focused on Polyposis Research

  • Steven H. Erdman