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Archives for Gastroenterology

Advances in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases Conference 2016

The 2016 Advances in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases Conference (AIBD) is being held December 8-10, 2016 in Orlando.

This event will showcase emerging treatment options including therapies and surgical management as well as advancements in quality of care in the field of IBD, and presentations and keynote speeches from experts who are leaders in their field.

Several UPMC faculty and staff will speak on a number of topics including:

CLINICAL ORGANIZING COMMITTEE MEMBERS:                               

Sandra Kim, MD
Miguel Regueiro, MD

MEET THE EXPERTS LUNCHEONS

 December 9, 2016: Can we better position biologics to optimize the management of Crohn’s disease?
Miguel Regueiro, MD

 December 10, 2016: An under-recognized ‘extra-intestinal’ manifestation of IBD: how best to manage stress, anxiety, and depression in our IBD patients.
Eva Szigethy, MD, PhD

 CLINICAL TRACK AGENDA
December 8, 2016: Session II-A: Current Therapeutic Approaches for the Optimal Medical Management of IBD

3:40 pm What will be the hot IBD clinical topics in 2017?
Miguel Regueiro, MD

Session Track V-A: Challenges in IBD: Case discussions

Moderators: Miguel Regueiro, MD, Corey A. Siegel, MD, MS
10:30 to 12:30 pm

December 9, 2016: Session VI-A: Case-based Clinical Breakout Sessions
Presented at both 2:00 and 3:00 pm

New models of care for IBD: The patient centered medical home and increasing patient engagement: Case studies
Miguel Regueiro, MD, Eva Szigethy, MD, PhD, Corey A. Siegel, MD, MS

December 10, 2016: Session VIII-A: Advances in the Care of IBD Patients

8:40 am Is there an optimal approach to prevent recurrence in post-operative Crohn’s disease?
Miguel Regueiro, MD

9:00 am Approaches used to avoid and treat narcotic dependence
Eva Szigethy, MD, PhD

PEDIATRIC TRACK AGENDA
December 9, 2016: Session VI-D: Progress in Pediatric IBD

Moderators: Sandra C. Kim, MD, Francisco A Sylvester, MD
2:00 to 4:00 pm
and
2:20 pm Extraintestinal manifestations in pediatric IBD – a survey of conditions and treatments: Rheumatologic manifestations
Sandra C. Kim, MD

Session VII-D: Advances in Pediatric IBD

5:00 pm Case discussions with expert 5 person panel
Panelists: Sandra C. Kim, MD, Millie D. Long, MD, MPH, Francisco A. Sylvester, MD

December 10, 2016: Session VIII-D: Common Clinical Challenges in Pediatric IBD

9:00 am What are effective approaches to counsel our pediatric IBD patients, who are undergoing surgery for Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis?
Sandra C. Kim, MD

 Session IX-D: Targeting Therapies for the Pediatric Patient

11:10 am Topics in ulcerative colitis
Panelists: Athos Bousvaros, MD, MPH, Sandra C. Kim, MD, Francisco A. Sylvester, MD

Center for Advanced Robotics Training Complex Pancreatic Resections Course — December 15-16, 2016

December 15-16, 2016

Overview:

This course will serve as an introduction to the advanced robotic curriculum, and will also expose participants to the skill sets necessary to safely perform advanced robotic pancreatic resections. The UPMC Robotic Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgery (HPB) program under the direction of Dr. David Bartlett and Dr. Herbert Zeh is a highly accomplished surgical program. This team has performed over 600 major pancreatic and liver resections, including nearly 300 pancreaticoduodenectomies and more than 100 robotic liver resections. They have published a number of highly-cited articles in this field. Over the last several years, this program has dedicated significant resources to developing a comprehensive proficiency-based curriculum for advanced robotic skills.

Day One: December 15

7 a.m. Case Observation (Robotic Whipple*)

3 p.m. Didactic Session

Robotic nurse coordinator

Robotic distal pancreatectomy

Robotic pancreaticoduodenectomy

Overview of robotic simulation and training curriculum

Overview of biotissue drills/testing

6 p.m. Working Dinner

Video presentations: scope of robotic HPB cases

Day Two: December 16

7 a.m. Continental Breakfast

8 a.m. – 12 p.m. Simulator/ Inanimate and Biotissue Skill Evaluations

12 – 1 p.m. Lunch

1 – 4 p.m. Cadaver Lab

*If surgical procedure is cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, a previously recorded full-length procedure will be used for discussion

Cost: $4,000/surgeon

Maximum attendance: 6 surgeons

This activity has been approved for AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™

 

For more information, please contact:

Daniel Battista, MBA, Administrative Director

UPMC Center for Advanced Robotics Training (CART) UPMCRoboticTrainingCenter@upmc.edu

1-844-304-227

World Congress of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition 2016

PrintThe 5th World Congress of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (WCPGHAN) was held October 5-8, 2016 in Montreal. This event showcased state of the art science and technology in the field of pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition, as well as presentations and keynote speeches from experts who are leaders in their field.

The conference encompassed nine themes including:

  • IBD
  • Celiac and other GI disorders
  • Neurogastroenterology and motility
  • Endoscopy
  • Hepatology
  • Pancreatology
  • Global health
  • Nutrition and intestinal rehabilitation
  • Transplantation

Several Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC faculty and staff spoke at the conference on a number topics including:

Immune Tolerance and Rejection
Pharmacology (pharmaco-genetics) and immunosuppression: Past, present and future
Patrick McKiernan, MD

Steatorrhea: What if it’s not Cystic Fibrosis
Mark Lowe, MD, PhD

Acute Liver Failure – Pathogenesis and Management
Rob Squires, MD and Anil Dhawan, MD

Pancreas
Mark Lowe, MD PhD

Pancreatitis

Inflammatory Responses/ Healing in Pancreatic Injury
Sohail Husain, MD

Poster Presentations

Sterile Cerebrosprinal Fluid Ascites: A Rare Complication After Ventriculoperitoneal Shunting
James Squires, MD, and  Kristen Critelli, MD (fellow)

Clinical Variability Following Partial External Biliary Diversion In Familial Intrahepatic Cholestasis 1 Deficiency
James Squires, MD,  Robert Squires, MD, and Amy Morris, RN, CCPC

Genetic Variant Newly Linked to Crohn’s Disease Also Associated with Altered Gut Microbiome Composition

An international team led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the University of California Los Angeles discovered that a genetic variation previously linked to obesity, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and schizophrenia also is associated with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract that is estimated to cost the US $6 billion annually.
In addition, the genetic variant is associated with changes in the composition of the gut microbiome—which is made up of potentially billions of microbes that help people digest food, synthesize nutrients and perform myriad other essential functions—in healthy people, overweight people and people with Crohn’s disease. The findings are reported online and scheduled for the October issue of the journal Gastroenterology, and the research was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and Helmsley Charitable Trust, among others.
“We knew from previous studies that there is reduced diversity of the gut microbiome in patients with Crohn’s disease,” said co-senior and corresponding author Richard Duerr, MD, a professor in Pitt’s School of Medicine, and co-director and scientific director of the UPMC Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center. “But that left us with a question: Does Crohn’s disease alter the composition of the gut microbiota, or do pre-existing changes in the gut microbiota confer risk for Crohn’s disease? Our study found that there is a reduction in the abundance of hundreds of minor species of gut bacteria in healthy, overweight and Crohn’s disease-affected people who carry this genetic variant, suggesting that the genetic variant may increase risk for disease by altering the gut habitat. This is an important step toward understanding how the disease works so we can develop therapies or a cure in the future.”
Under the leadership of Dr. Duerr and co-senior author Dermot McGovern, MD, PhD, FRCP (Lon), director of Translational Medicine in the Cedars-Sinai F. Widjaja Foundation Inflammatory Bowel and Immunobiology Research Institute, the team focused their analysis on 10,523 blood samples from people with inflammatory bowel disease (half had been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease) and 5,726 samples from healthy people.  They discovered that a variation in the SLC39A8 gene is associated with Crohn’s disease.“This finding is another important example of how a particular genetic variant can have a role in the development and course of many diseases. Our study of this variant suggests that therapies effective in treating one disease also may benefit the treatment of some patients with other illnesses,” said Dr. McGovern, who also is director of Precision Medicine at Cedars-Sinai.

Taking it a step further, the team identified healthy people, overweight people and Crohn’s disease-affected people with the genetic variant and analyzed their gut microbiomes under the leadership of co-senior author Jonathan Braun, MD, PhD, chair and professor of pathology and laboratory medicine in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. That is how they discovered that the genetic variant is not just linked to Crohn’s and other conditions, but also to a reduction in hundreds of species of gut bacteria.
“Many of these species are believed to play roles in protecting the intestine against Crohn’s disease, and also in preserving a lean body physiology,” said Dr. Braun. “So, this may be an example where the gene increases risk for disease via its effect on types of bacteria we need to preserve our health.”

The findings have sparked additional questions and potential research avenues, but therapies are still quite a ways off, said Dr. Duerr, also a professor in the Pitt Graduate School of Public Health Department of Human Genetics. However, the recent establishment of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Medicine and the Microbiome will help accelerate this research and bring potential therapies—which may involve the center’s clinical fecal transplantation program—to patients.

“This study illustrates the remarkable interaction between our proper genome and our symbiome—the organisms and environment inside and outside of us that influence our well-being—in the setting of inflammatory bowel disease,” said Mark T. Gladwin, MD, chair of medicine and Dr. Jack D. Myers Professor of Internal Medicine at Pitt. “Insights from this study are likely to guide the development of microbiome modulating therapies that hold the promise to alleviate patient suffering.”

Additional institutions with researchers who participated in this study are Cleveland Clinic; Yale University; Karolinska Institutet and Örebro University, both in Sweden; Biocruces Health Research Institute in Spain; University Hospital Munich-Grosshadern, University of Ulm, Krankenhaus Waldfriede and Ludwig-Maximilians-University, all in Germany; QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital and University of Queensland, all in Australia; Inselspital Bern and University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland; Emory University; University of Chicago; Harvard University; Université de Montréal, Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont, University of Toronto and Montreal Heart Institute, all in Canada; Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; University of California Riverside; The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Johns Hopkins University.

Additional support for this research was provided by numerous grants to the individual researchers, as listed in the Gastroenterology research publication.

David Whitcomb Honored as Outstanding Mentor

whitcomb-david-214x300David C. Whitcomb, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, received the 2016 Pancreatic Disorders Section Research Mentor Award at the Digestive Disease Week conference. This award has been presented since 2010 to outstanding mentors in specific areas of gastroenterology research.

Dr. Whitcomb has been leading pancreatic disorder research at Pitt since he joined the faculty in 1991, and he has received over two decades of continuous funding from the National Institutes of Health. His research interests include hereditary pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. Currently, Dr. Whitcomb’s laboratory is working to develop new ways to detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages.

Digestive Disease Week brings together the world’s largest group of physicians and researchers who are focused on gastroenterology, hepatology, endoscopy and gastrointestinal surgery. Digestive Disease Week 2016 was held in San Diego from May 21 – 24, 2016

Read the full news announcement. 

Lantern raises $17M to provide accessible online mental health wellness services; partners with healthcare leader UPMC

Lantern, the leader in evidence-based online mental health wellness services, today announced the close of a $17 million investment led by Pittsburgh-based healthcare giant UPMC. The investment reflects a commitment from Lantern and UPMC to transform the way emotional wellbeing services are delivered and accessed in the U.S. UPMC was joined by all previous Lantern investors, including Mayfield Fund, SoftTech Venture Capital and Stanford University.

As a leading mental health provider and research organization, UPMC will partner with Lantern to leverage its platform within a myriad of clinical settings and conditions.

“We are excited about reaching more people with behavioral health issues through this readily accessible, scalable, and cost-effective platform,” said Tal Heppenstall, president of UPMC Enterprises, the commercialization arm of UPMC, which spearheaded this investment. “This partnership is an excellent example of our mission at UPMC Enterprises: finding creative solutions and technologies to solve some of the most challenging problems in healthcare.”

UPMC, one of the largest integrated healthcare delivery systems in the U.S., is “the ideal partner,” said Alejandro Foung, Lantern co-founder and CEO. “UPMC has a unique view into the continuum of care, from insuring more than 2.8 million individuals, to administering care preventatively and when patients need it most through its more than 20 hospitals and 3,500 employed physicians,” said Foung. “A large part of UPMC’s appeal to Lantern is its focus on disease prevention, a sharp contrast to the fee-for-service model that currently dominates the behavioral health landscape. Because of our shared focus on prevention to solve health challenges before they even arise or manifest, Lantern and UPMC are the perfect match.”

Behavioral health problems are among the most pressing health issues facing the country, affecting more than 18 percent of adults. Depression and anxiety disorders are among the top five drivers of medical costs in primary care settings—and are even more common and costly among those with chronic medical conditions. Given the shortage of mental health workers, two-thirds of primary care physicians report difficulty referring patients to behavioral health services.

UPMC clinicians will work with Lantern on pilots aimed at expanding its programs to additional behavioral health issues and potentially to populations of patients with more complex conditions. “Integrating behavioral health into broader medical care and focusing on prevention for large groups of patients is the only way that we can deliver high-quality, cost-effective mental healthcare,” said Eva Szigethy, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry, pediatrics, and medicine at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who will be working closely with the Lantern team.

The largest nongovernmental employer in Pennsylvania, UPMC integrates 60,000 employees, more than 20 hospitals, more than 500 doctors’ offices and outpatient sites, a health insurance division, and international and commercial operations. Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, UPMC ranks No. 13 in the prestigious U.S. News & World Report annual Honor Roll of America’s Best Hospitals.

Building on UPMC’s 20-year track record of successful commercialization activity, UPMC Enterprises is dedicated to creating exceptional healthcare innovations that will have a measurable impact on the cost and quality of care. By partnering with innovators like Lantern, UPMC Enterprises is focused on creating and commercializing solutions in four key areas: clinical tools that will transform the delivery of care, population health management that will be essential in health care’s move from volume to value, consumer-centric healthcare, and business services that improve efficiency.

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC Gastroenterologist Receives Prestigious Murray Davidson Award

PrintThe American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has awarded Robert H. Squires, M.D., director of pediatric hepatology, a program of the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, its 2015 Murray Davidson Award. The award was presented on Oct. 9 at the annual meeting of the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (NASPGHAN) in Washington, D.C.

The award recognizes an outstanding clinician, educator and scientist who has made significant contributions to the field of pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition.

“I am humbled that my colleagues consider me to be deserving of an award that includes my heroes in the field of pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition,” said Dr. Squires, also professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “While given to an individual, this very special award is a testament to my fortunate encounters with strong mentors, colleagues and patients; and to my wonderfully supportive and accomplished family.”

Dr. Squires is the principal investigator for the multi-center, multi-national National Institutes of Health-sponsored pediatric acute liver failure study group; the site principal investigator for the Childhood Liver Disease Research Network; and was the principal investigator for the Pediatric Intestinal Failure Consortium.

“Dr. Squires embodies the qualities celebrated by the Murray Davidson Award,” said Mark E. Lowe, M.D., Ph.D., director, pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition, Children’s Hospital. “I can’t think of a more deserving awardee. We are fortunate to have him helping care for the children of western Pennsylvania.”

Dr. Squires served as chair of the AAP Section on Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition and was an executive council member of NASPGHAN. He has published over 70 peer-reviewed articles in major journals, 47 in the past 10 years.

“Dr. Squires is a physician with a stable internal compass that has always directed him to serve the health care needs of children in the broadest sense,” said David Keljo, M.D., Ph.D., director, Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center, Children’s Hospital. “He has consistently worked to ensure the best possible clinical care for children, displaying great character while leading the way. It was a privilege to nominate him.”

The Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at Children’s is ranked second in the country by U.S. News & World Report’s 2015-16 Best Children’s Hospital specialty ranking for pediatric gastroenterology and GI surgery. The division consists of experts in general clinical pediatric gastroenterology, pediatric hepatology, and a broad range of specialty areas, including abdominal pain, acute and chronic pancreatitis, constipation, diarrhea, eosinophilic disorders, feeding disorders, gastroesophageal reflux and esophagitis, gastrointestinal bleeding, Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center, intestinal failure (short-bowel), irritable bowel syndrome, motility disorders, Liver Clinic, liver diseases and transplantation, metabolic disorders affecting the liver or intestines, poor growth, small bowel transplantation and ulcer disease. The division also provides a full range of diagnostic procedures and treatments related to the gastrointestinal tract, liver and pancreas.

For more information on Dr. Squires and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, visit www.chp.edu.

Two-Week International Diet Swap Shows Potential Effects of Diet on Colon Cancer Risk

PITTSBURGH, April 28, 2015 – African-Americans and Africans who swapped their typical diets for just two weeks similarly exchanged their respective risks of colon cancer as reflected by alterations of their gut bacteria, according to an international study led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine published online today in Nature Communications.

Principal investigator Stephen O’Keefe, M.D., professor of medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, Pitt School of Medicine, observed while practicing in South Africa that his rural patients rarely had colon cancer or intestinal polyps, which can be a cancer precursor. In the Western world, colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death and African-Americans carry the greatest disease burden in the United States.

“The African-American diet, which contains more animal protein and fat, and less soluble fiber than the African diet, is thought to increase colon cancer risk,” Dr. O’Keefe explained. “Other studies with Japanese migrants to Hawaii have shown that it takes only one generation of Westernization to change their low incidence of colon cancer to the high rates observed in native Hawaiians. In this project, we examined the impact of a brief diet change on the colon in a controlled setting where we didn’t have to worry about the influence of smoking and other environmental factors on cancer risk.”

After assessment of their in-home diets, 20 African-American and 20 rural South African volunteers ages 50 to 65 were housed at a University of Pittsburgh site and at an African lodging facility respectively. There they ate meals prepared by the researchers using ingredients and cooking techniques typical of the other group. The team examined fecal and colon content samples, obtained during colonoscopy, of each volunteer at baseline and after the two-week study period.

Although the diet change was brief, each group took on the other’s rates of turnover of cells of the intestinal lining, levels of fiber fermentation, and markers of bacterial metabolic activity and inflammation associated with cancer risk. In particular, African-Americans experienced an increase in butyrate production, which is thought to play a key role in anti-cancer pathways. The researchers also noted they removed intestinal polyps from nine of the African-American volunteers, but none were present in the Africans.

“We can’t definitively tell from these measurements that the change in their diet would have led to more cancer in the African group or less in the American group, but there is good evidence from other studies that the changes we observed are signs of cancer risk,” said co-author Jeremy Nicholson, Ph.D., of Imperial College London.

According to Dr. O’Keefe, increasing the amount of fiber in the diet – from approximately 10 grams to more than 50 for African-Americans in the diet swap – likely led to biomarker changes reflecting reduced cancer risk, but eating less animal fat and proteins also could be helpful.

“These findings are really very good news,” he said. “In just two weeks, a change in diet from a Westernized composition to a traditional African high-fiber, low-fat diet reduced these biomarkers of cancer risk, indicating that it is likely never too late to modify the risk of colon cancer.”

The team included other researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Imperial College London, as well as Wageningen University in the Netherlands; University of Helsinki, Finland; University of Illinois; and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

Funding for the study was provided National Institutes of Health grants CA135379, RR024153 and TR000005; the National Institute for Health Research Imperial Biomedical Research Centre, UK; the Academy of Medical Sciences; the Spinoza Award of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, the European Research Council and the Academy of Finland.

Pitt Collaborates with Janssen to Study and Tailor New Treatments for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

PITTSBURGH, April 8, 2015 – Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh will collaborate with Janssen Research & Development, LLC (Janssen) on a project to study the effectiveness of potential new therapies for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

A research team led by Ian McGowan, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine, Pitt School of Medicine, will use tissue samples from patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, two types of IBD, as well as from healthy volunteers, to evaluate experimental medicines developed by Janssen.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to advance future therapeutic approaches that may one day benefit patients living with IBD,” Dr. McGowan said. “We hope that this process will guide us to more effective treatments for these complex immune-mediated diseases.”

More than 6,000 IBD patients are seen each year by physicians in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition at Pitt and UPMC, which is led by David Whitcomb, M.D., Ph.D., Giant Eagle Foundation Professor of Cancer Genetics and professor of medicine, Pitt School of Medicine.

“The integration of an outstanding clinical IBD program with cutting-edge basic science research teams to introduce the best new therapies to patients who desperately need them can only happen in a few places in the world,” Dr. Whitcomb said. “Everyone here is committed to the success of this program at every level, by every measure.”

The project was coordinated by the university’s Pharmaceutical Collaborations Committee, which is chaired by D. Lansing Taylor, Ph.D., director of Pitt’s Drug Discovery Institute.

Smoking, Alcohol, Gene Variant Interact to Increase Risk of Chronic Pancreatitis, Says Pitt Team

PITTSBURGH, January 14, 2015 – Genetic mutations may link smoking and alcohol consumption to destruction of the pancreas observed in chronic pancreatitis, according to a 12-year study led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The findings, published today in Nature Publishing Group’s online, open-access journal Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology, provides insight into why some people develop this painful and debilitating inflammatory condition while most heavy smokers or drinkers do not appear to suffer any problems with it.

The process appears to begin with acute pancreatitis, which is the sudden onset of inflammation causing nausea, vomiting and severe pain in the upper abdomen that may radiate to the back, and is typically triggered by excessive drinking or gallbladder problems, explained senior investigator David Whitcomb, M.D., Ph.D., chief of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition, Pitt School of Medicine. Up to a third of those patients will have recurrent episodes of acute pancreatitis, and up to a third of that group develops chronic disease, in which the organ becomes scarred from inflammation.

“Smoking and drinking are known to be strong risk factors for chronic pancreatitis, but not everyone who smokes or drinks damages their pancreas,” Dr. Whitcomb said. “Our new study identifies gene variants that when combined with these lifestyle factors make people susceptible to chronic pancreatitis and may be useful  to prevent patients from developing it.”

In the North American Pancreatitis Study II consortium, researchers evaluated gene profiles and alcohol and smoking habits of more than 1,000 people with either chronic pancreatitis or recurrent acute pancreatitis and an equivalent number of healthy volunteers. The researchers took a closer look at a gene called CTRC, which can protect pancreatic cells from injury caused by premature activation of trypsin, a digestive enzyme inside the pancreas instead of the intestine, a problem that has already been associated with pancreatitis.

They found that a certain variant of the CTRC gene, which is thought to be carried by about 10 percent of Caucasians, was a strong risk factor for alcohol- or smoking-associated chronic pancreatitis. It’s possible that the variant fails to protect the pancreas from trypsin, leaving the carrier vulnerable to ongoing pancreatic inflammation and scarring.

“This finding presents us with a window of opportunity to intervene in the diseases process,” Dr. Whitcomb said. “When people come to the hospital with acute pancreatitis, we could screen for this gene variant and  do everything possible to help those who have it quit smoking and drinking alcohol, as well as test new treatments, because they have the greatest risk of progressing to end-stage chronic pancreatitis.”

Whitcomb’s team has been implementing more personalized approaches to pancreatic diseases in the Pancreas Center of Excellence within the Digestive Disorders Center at UPMC and hopes to learn whether use of genetic information can, in fact, reduce the chances of chronic disease in high-risk patients.

The study team includes Jessica LaRusch, Ph.D., Antonio Lozano-Leon, Ph.D., Kimberly Stello, Amanda Moore, Venkata Muddana, M.D., Michael O’Connell, Ph.D., Brenda Diergaarde, Ph.D., and Dhiraj Yadav, M.D., all of the University of Pittsburgh.

The project was funded by National Institutes of Health grants DK061451, DK077906 and DK063922, and the Conselleria de Industria e Innovación, Xunta de Galicia, Spain.

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