In patients following a long-term gluten-free diet, nutrient deficiencies are common and may persist due to an inadequate recovery of the mucous membrane. The ability to restore proper nutrition to people with malabsorption could aid many celiac patients in maintaining better health on a gluten-free diet. James Wells, a scientist at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, has been awarded a $1.5 million research grant by the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group to study stem cells from patients with genetic disorders, such as celiac disease, that impair one’s ability to properly absorb nutrients to help develop new therapies for malnutrition.

Wells has received the Allen Distinguished Investigator Award, which entails an annual payment of $500,000 for a total of three years. The Allen Distinguished Investigator program supports early stage research that is less likely to receive support from traditional funding sources but has the potential to significantly advance understanding of human health and disease.

Wells’ research focuses on enteroendocrine cells, an intestinal cell that initiates digestive actions and detects harmful substances in order to elicit a protective response. The research team will study how these cells sense nutrients in food and then control how they are absorbed and stored.

“Poor access to nutrients as well as diseases that impair intestinal function like Crohn’s, Celiac and Hirschsprung’s can make it impossible for our body to absorb adequate nutrition,” Wells said. “Enteroendocrine cells are a rare population of nutrient-sensing cells in the intestine that control virtually all aspects of nutritional regulation, from being hungry to absorbing the nutrients in the food that we eat. Our research aims to understand exactly how these cells respond to nutrients and then coordinate these functions. One main goal of our research is to be able to restore proper nutrition to people suffering from nutrient malabsorption.”

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Children’s Hospital Scientist Awarded $1.5M Research Grant