Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Our laboratory is a close partnership between a clinician‑investigator, Dr. Francisco A. Sylvester and a basic T cell immunologist, Dr. Anthony T. Vella. The laboratory is located in the Department of Immunology at the University of Connecticut Health Center and is currently staffed by Dr. Andrew Draghi II, a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Maria Bausero, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.
Our laboratory has two major areas of interest. The first is to uncover mechanisms by which inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affects bone formation in children. IBD affects approximately 1.4 million Americans, of which 25% are diagnosed as children. Although the incidence of IBD has remained stable, in children it is steadily rising. We have discovered that bone mass is significantly reduced in children with IBD from diagnosis. IBD in children primarily reduces bone formation. We postulate that the inflamed intestine triggers cytokine responses in the bone microenvironment that inhibit osteoblast function. We are conducting this work in collaboration with Dr. Ernesto Canalis at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, and Dr. Leanne Ward and Dr. David Mack at Children's Hospital in Eastern Ontario, Ottawa, Canada. A second major interest is the role of osteoprotegerin chronic intestinal inflammation and inherited polyposis syndromes. Osteoprotegerin, a potent inhibitor of osteoclast development, is also a factor that modulates apoptosis of immune cells in the inflamed gut and in cancer. We are currently examining the role of osteoprotegerin as a biomarker of disease severity in pediatric IBD and uncovering the cells that produce osteoprotegerin in the inflamed colon.
We also participate in large, multicenter studies supported by the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America and the National Institutes of Health through which we have access to clinical data and samples from children with IBD followed prospectively from diagnosis.
Our work involves collection, processing and analysis of biospecimens from children, and the generation and study of mouse models of inflammatory bowel disease and inherited polyposis syndromes. Therefore, our laboratory offers a unique opportunity to perform human translational research in children with IBD, and to study hypotheses in relevant experimental models of disease.