Faculty Receives Breakthrough Award for Inflammatory Bowel Disease Research

Julie Champion, assistant professor in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Tech, and Andrew S. Neish, professor of pathology at Emory University School of Medicine, are the recipients of one of two Breakthrough Awards launched by The Kenneth Rainin Foundation (KRF). Their research project on bioengineering bacterially derived immunomodulants for a novel treatment of inflammatory bowel disease received $100,000 in funding.

Julie Champion
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Julie Champion is an assistant professor in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering in Georgia Tech's College of Engineering. 

The Breakthrough Awards Program is designed to provide extended support to existing KRF-funded Innovator Award recipients to further research on Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and increase the likelihood of a breakthrough discovery. Last year, the team’s proposal received one of the inaugural Innovator awards given by the foundation.

Over the course of the next year, the team’s research will focus on developing effective therapeutics that harnesses the immunomodulatory properties of bacterial molecules for the treatment of IBD. By exploiting the inherent ability of intestinal pathogens to control inflammatory signaling pathways in the human body, the researchers hope to adapt bacterial regulatory molecules and use them as an immunotherapy.

“We intend to develop a new therapeutic paradigm that utilizes bacterial immunoregulatory mechanisms and engineers a nanoparticle delivery strategy essential for clinical viability,” says Champion. Immunomodulators are agents that alter the immune response by suppression (immunosuppressive) or enhancement (immunostimulant). “Our research focuses on exploiting the inherent abilities of intestinal bacteria to attenuate the symptoms of IBD,” she says.
IBD is a group of inflammatory conditions of the colon and small intestine, including the major types of IBD known as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Although the causes of IBD are unknown, medical experts believe the most likely cause is an immune reaction the body has against its own tissues in the intestine. Approximately five million people worldwide suffer from some form of IBD, with symptoms that include pain, bleeding, and debilitation. Current therapeutic options for patients are largely limited to the use of anti-inflammatory steroids applied either systemically or locally for the treatment of the symptoms, and removal of the colon is the only cure at this time.

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation is a private family foundation that funds inspiring and world-changing work.  The Innovator Awards Program for IBD Research encourages collaboration in the hope of finding new and better treatments, and ultimately a cure, for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The key components for funding consideration include innovation, collaboration, scientific merit, and a high potential for success.