Ongoing Research Funded by DHF

Introducing a groundbreaking new research technology, the

In 2017, the Digestive Health Foundation became a founding supporter of a powerful new resource for digestive health medical research: The Digestive Health Foundation BioRepository. As one of only a few GI biorepositories of its kind in the world, the DHF BioRepository stores, organizes, and makes accessible (digitally, in real time) blood and tissue samples from patients and family members diagnosed with one or more of the digestive disorders treated at the Northwestern Medicine Digestive Health Center.
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2017 Research Studies

How Does Inflammation Increase the Risk of Cancer in Intestinal Tissues?
Normally immune cells like neutrophils protect our body against invading pathogens but sometimes they go overboard. Accumulating in tissue, they can cause cell injury in the GI tract, leading to the development of inflammatory bowel disease and potentially, colorectal cancer. While neutrophils can drive inflammation, it remains unclear just how they contribute to tumor development. Dr. Sumagin and colleagues plan to define the mechanism that allows neutrophils to both promote abnormal cell mutations and inhibit DNA repair genes. The investigators will also work to determine if neutralizing these harmful effects can prevent increased mutations and cancer.
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Developing Ways to Reduce Inappropriate Use of (Leftover) Narcotics Prescribed for Patients Undergoing Bowel Surgery
A surplus of prescription pain killers continues to fuel the drug crisis in America. The accidental overdose of opioids has surpassed motor vehicle crashes, in terms of lives claimed, in this country. Nearly two-thirds of opioid pills prescribed to Digestive Health Center (DHC) patients now go unused, leaving these narcotics vulnerable to abuse or misuse within our own community. Dr. Stulberg’s intervention project will include the installation of a one-way drug collection receptacle within the DHC Clinic; provider training on opioid prescribing risks, benefits and alternatives; and patient education materials promoting opioid medication safety.
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Can We Improve Lung Function in Cystic Fibrosis by Treating Constipation?
Does constipation cause breathing problems? In some individuals with cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic disorder typically affecting lung function and sometimes the GI tract, the answer is yes-maybe. After undergoing a bowel preparation, much like one used before colonoscopies, some CF patients have reported improvements in their breathing. To determine if there is a connection, Dr. Stein and colleagues will characterize the effect of a single bowel purge on pulmonary function tests in patients with CF who also have pancreatic insufficiency. They plan to enroll 20 patients in this pilot study.
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Developing Laboratory Markers to Predict Recurrence of Fatty Liver after Liver Transplantation
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is associated with obesity and a few other conditions, and occurs when extra fat builds up in liver cells. A serious offshoot of NAFLD, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), can cause the liver to scar (cirrhosis) and is now the second leading cause of liver transplant. However, patients who undergo liver transplants for NASH are at particularly high risk of redeveloping NASH, which can lead to graft failure and even death. Currently, painful and invasive needle biopsies are the only way to diagnose and stage NASH after liver transplant. Dr. Rinella and her co-investigators hope to develop a blood-based alternative by identifying biomarkers that can accurately indicate the onset or recurrence of NASH. A simple blood test would allow for more frequent monitoring and earlier intervention with less discomfort and cost to patients.
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How to Improve the Use of Lidocaine to Reduce Pain for Patients Undergoing Intestinal Surgery
Intravenously-injected lidocaine, a numbing agent, provides pain relief without the side effects of narcotic pain medications after bowel surgery. Northwestern Memorial Hospital began using lidocaine in September 2016 at standard doses recommended by experts at other medical centers. However, a small number of patients, though, experienced side effects. Their metabolism of the drug may have resulted in higher than expected levels of lidocaine in the blood stream. Dr. Ahmad’s research team will study blood levels of lidocaine in 40 patients at various times while they are receiving the medication. The aim is to identify predisposing characteristics that put certain patients at risk for lidocaine-induced side effects to better individualize the dosing, safety and effectiveness of the drug.
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Can we Improve Doctors' Colonoscopy Skills with a “Report Card”?
Skills matter when it comes to screening colonoscopies for colon cancer. Some doctors are better than others at finding and removing precancerous polyps that may lead to cancer if left to grow. Striving to enhance colonoscopy performance to ensure the best quality care, Dr. Duloy’s research team plans to provide feedback to GI specialists at Northwestern Medicine on their technique. The study will involve video grading by experts and pre- and post-“report cards” to measure improvement.
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Does Cannabis Reduce Symptoms or Inflammation in Patients with IBD?
Medical marijuana’s popularity has grown as a treatment for tamping down the debilitating effects of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). However, no one knows if it improves intestinal inflammation— critical to treating IBD. In fact, it could be simply masking symptoms and delaying treatment. To determine if that is the case, Dr. Bertha and colleagues will compare patients in symptomatic remission (feeling well) who use marijuana to those without symptoms who do not use marijuana. Using blood and fecal tests, the researchers will assess levels of intestinal inflammation in the two groups. Findings of this study could have important clinical and societal implications as medical marijuana becomes more widespread.
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Can We Use Therapeutic Monitoring of Drug Levels to Improve Long-Term Control of Patients Treated with Infliximab (Remicade) in IBD?
The drug infliximab (Remicade) offers relief to millions of people with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Yet, which dose is the best dose? The same dose does not work for all patients to prevent flare- ups and improve quality of life. Better personalizing the use of infliximab, Dr. Bellaguarda’s research team has designed a study to monitor and adjust dosing of the medication during two key times during the therapeutic infusion timeline. The Digestive Health Foundation grant will support a study coordinator to manage patient enrollment, monitoring and outcomes during the one-year project.
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How to Optimize Control of Acid Reflux to Reduce the Risk of Cancers in Barrett’s Esophagus
Barrett’s Esophagus (BE) occurs when damaging acid reflux causes the lining of the esophagus to change from normal to pre-cancerous tissue. Although BE can be effectively treated with acid-blocking medications, some individuals still progress to advanced disease and even cancer. Using tissue samples already collected during routine surveillance endoscopies, Dr. Komanduri and colleagues hope to identify tissue markers to indicate which BE patients are at high risk of developing cancer. Improving cancer detection in this way could allow for earlier intervention and better outcomes as well as limit the use of costly and invasive procedures.
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Molecular Profiling and Associations with Clinical Phenotypes in Adult Eosinophilic Esophagitis
Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE) is a common cause for swallowing problems (dysphagia) in adults. Resulting in inflammation of the esophagus, EoE can severely impede the passage of food, increasing the risk of food impactions that require immediate medical attention. While diet changes and medications work well, matching the best treatment to the right patient remains challenging. Uncovering the genetic differences between EoE patients could lead to better predictors of treatment response and more personalized care. Dr. Gonsalves’s research team plans to mine Northwestern University's comprehensive clinical database (NUCATS) in combination with sophisticated genetic testing and analysis to conduct what will be the largest molecular-phenotype association study of its kind for EoE.
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To view the original scientific abstracts from the researchers, CLICK HERE.

2016 Research Studies

Developing Video-Based Education to Improve Patient Completion of Colorectal Cancer Screening
Screening colonoscopies have been credited with turning the tide against colorectal cancer—the second leading cause of death in the United States—with early prevention and treatment. Yet barriers, from patient fears to cultural influences, keep many Americans from undergoing the potentially lifesaving procedure. Even when screening colonoscopies are scheduled, no shows and cancellations are common.
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Developing Video Teaching Tools for Endoscopic Removal of Large Polyps
From development to implementation, new medical advancements often don’t enter into mainstream usage without education and training. Introduced in the 1990s in Japan, minimally-invasive endoscopic submucosal dissection (ESD) has become the standard of care for not only treating but also, most importantly, curing early gastrointestinal cancers.
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Does Use of Methotrexate Impact Male Fertility in IBD Patients?
Immunosuppressive drugs have made living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) easier. But these powerful medications have their drawbacks, especially when it comes to potentially affecting future fertility. Complicating matters, IBD often strikes people during their key reproductive years. Patients’ fertility fears may dissuade them from taking effective medication that could help them to better manage their disease.
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Using a Video Education Tool to Impact Patient Satisfaction and Perceptions of Cancer Risks for Patients with Barrett’s Esophagus
No one wants to hear the “C” word. Even the slightest hint of a cancer risk is, understandably, frightening—even when all signs point to a positive outcome. Chronic regurgitation of stomach acid can damage the esophagus and eventually lead to a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus (BE). Patients with BE are at risk for esophageal adenocarcinoma (cancer of the esophagus), which strikes about 3 to 4 Americans out of 100,000 each year.
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Assessing a New Liver Function Tool to Predict Outcomes of Liver Failure in Patients with Heart Disease
Many babies born with heart problems grow up and mature well into adulthood thanks to modern surgical advancements. In fact, one million adults currently live with some form of congenital heart disease in the United States alone. A rare congenital heart condition, single ventricle disease usually requires surgical intervention early on, with most children undergoing a common surgery known as the Fontan procedure.
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Use of Health Coaches to Improve the Effectiveness of Behavioral Therapies for GI Conditions
Behavioral interventions for digestive health conditions are highly effective, yet while the majority of patients are interested in these treatments, there are many barriers to accessing this care. Integrating health coaching to assist patients in make lifestyle changes and managing their health conditions may increase access to care by reducing the number of sessions needed with GI health psychologists.
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2015 Research Studies

Developing a Standardized Training System for Interpreting Esophageal Manometry Exams
Every physician strives for and every patient expects an accurate diagnosis—no matter what the health issue. Advancements in imaging and other technologies continue to enhance diagnostic capabilities for a range of diseases, including gastrointestinal disorders. But even the most sophisticated diagnostic tools can yield erroneous results in untrained and/or inexperienced hands.
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How do Genetic Differences in Immunosuppressive Drug Metabolism Impact Outcomes for Liver Transplants
Variations in our genetic makeup determine who we are, from hair and eye color to how we respond to drugs. Today, the growing field of personalized medicine looks to our DNA to tailor treatment so that we receive precise and appropriate care. An emerging offshoot, pharmacogenomics looks specifically at the connections between genetics and drug metabolism.
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How Do We Improve Transitioning of Pediatric IBD Patients into Adult Practices
Graduating from high school. Going away to college. Getting that first job. For many, these milestones mark the transition from childhood to adulthood, with parents and their children diligently preparing for them as they arise. Yet a young adult patient’s move from beloved pediatrician or family doctor to an unfamiliar adult care specialist is often abrupt. Learning to be in charge of your own health can be challenging, especially for those with chronic illnesses.
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Assessing a New Imaging Probe to Evaluate Gastroesophageal Reflux
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common condition that often involves heartburn and/or regurgitation. If left untreated, scarring of the esophagus or “food pipe” may result. GERD leads to millions of outpatient visits annually. For some individuals, increased laxity at the end of the muscular esophagus may contribute to GERD. Assessing the extent of this laxity helps to determine the most appropriate strategies for treating the disease and preventing further damage to the esophagus.
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