Digestive Diseases and Nutrition Research

Chronic diseases are prevalent in Western societies and the rise in chronic diseases over recent decades is believed to be linked to factors associated with the modern lifestyle. The goal of ongoing research within the Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition is to expand knowledge of disease mechanisms and improve patient care. Led by director Ali Keshavarzian, MD, the research team consists of gastroenterologists, hepatologists, nutritionists, scientists, nurses, clinical coordinators, dietitians and laboratory staff.  

Our research endeavors, education, clinical trials, fellowship and collaborations with other hospitals and universities are dedicated to enhancing excellence in patient care and scientific discoveries for the diverse communities of the Chicago area now and in the future.

Our work

The research focus of the Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition is to investigate how factors associated with lifestyle (diet, alcohol, behavior, circadian rhythms and sleep) promote chronic diseases via the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, liver, and brain-gut axis. Our research team uses translational research approaches utilizing a variety of models including in vitro, in vivo, animal models and clinical research studies to investigate mechanisms of and treatments for GI and chronic systemic diseases where gut–derived inflammation plays a mechanistic role. The sections below describe major themes and specific diseases that are currently being investigated. 

Major themes of disease mechanisms

  • Brain-gut axis
    • Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, multiple system atrophy, Parkinson’s disease
  • Circadian rhythms and consequences of circadian rhythm disruption and sleep
    • Obesity and obesity-associated pathologies, worsening of inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome and alcohol-associated pathologies
  • Complementary and alternative medicine, including mind/body medicine
  • Consequences of alcohol consumption (binge and chronic), including liver disease
  • Dietary interventions (MIND diet, prebiotics, probiotics) in GI, neurodegenerative and systemic inflammatory diseases
    • Inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome
    • Alzheimer’s disease, HIV, obesity, Parkinson’s disease
  • Intestinal inflammation
  • Intestinal bacteria (microbiota)
  • Intestinal permeability (leaky gut)
  • Myeloid cell development in steady-state and inflammatory conditions
  • Dendritic cell biology
  • Immune regulation of liver fibrosis progression and regression
  • Hepatic tolerance and autoimmunity

Specific human diseases and projects

  • Alcoholic liver disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Breast cancer
  • Celiac disease
  • Colon cancer
  • Gastric cancer
  • Epilepsy
  • Fatty liver
  • Food allergy
  • Hepatitis C
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Hepatorenal syndrome
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Obesity and metabolic syndrome
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Particulate matter
  • Peptic ulcer disease
  • Portal hypertension
  • Pre-term infants
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis
  • Acute and chronic rejection after liver transplant
  • Socioeconomic status in disease
  • Space travel impact on the gastrointestinal tract (NASA)

Technology

Our research team uses state-of-the-art equipment and techniques to investigate the role of the GI tract in diseases. Our experimental approaches include the following:

  • In vitro growth of anaerobic bacteria as well as measurements of intestinal barrier integrity in intestinal epithelial cells
  • In vivo animal models utilize circadian chambers to allow for manipulation of light:dark cycles and feeding schedules as well as accurate monitoring of behavioral activity by computer software
  • In vivo human studies use the new Chronobiology Center to carry out 24/7 circadian assessments of patients
  • Gas-chromatography-based analyses for intestinal permeability and fecal short-chain-fatty-acid measurements
  • Extracting and sequencing microbial DNA and bioinformatics analysis
  • Anaerobic fermentation to determine the clinically utility of dietary prebiotic fibers in different disease populations
  • Gastrointestinal repository freezer farm

Funding

The Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition Department research program has extensive grant funding from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging, Department of Defense, as well as other research associations, including the American Cancer Society, NASA, Michael J. Fox Foundation, The Broad Foundation, Nestle and industry sponsors. We also receive generous support from our patients through philanthropy.

Research personnel

Contact us

If you would like to enroll in one of our many clinical trials, please click here, email us or call us at (312) 942-3466. 

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