The University of Michigan (U-M) now has an established reputation as a leading institution in gastrointestinal (GI) research. However, in the early 1980's the pool of researchers interested in gastroenterology had diminished considerably to the extent that no investigators in the GI unit had independent grant funding from the NIH and no recognizable interdisciplinary collaborative efforts were ongoing. U-M committed major resources in the form of research space and start-up funding and recruited Drs. Tadataka Yamada and Chung Owyang to rebuild the Division of Gastroenterology. Their specific research in neurohumoral peptides of the gut, which had broad implications in a wide variety of systems was particularly well suited for establishing interdisciplinary investigative projects. With this topic as a focus, it was possible to galvanize a small group of established scientists at UM into a collaborative proposal for establishment of a Center for Digestive Diseases at U-M.
The remarkable impact of the Michigan GI Peptide Research Center, now named the U-M Center for Gastrointestinal Research (UMCGR), is exemplified by the fact that it represents nearly 15% of the total research base of the U-M Medical School. Total digestive diseases related funding has increased 3.4-fold in the last 15 years from $8.4 million to the present $34 million, with $15 million (44%) from NIDDK.
Perhaps more importantly, is the role the Center has played in developing young faculty members. Many of our Pilot & Feasibility (P&F) awardees have developed into independent investigators with academic leadership positions. The Center has also played a key role in recruiting outstanding scientists to UM. These include Dr. John Williams (Chair, Dept. of Physiology, 1987-2006), Dr. Jack Dixon (Chair, Dept. of Biological Chemistry, 1986-2003), Dr. Bishr Omary (Chair, Dept. of Molecular and Integrated Physiology, 2007-2018), Dr. John Carethers (Chair, Dept. of Internal Medicine, 2008 - present) and Dr. Charles Parkos (Chair, Dept. of Pathology, 2015 –present). It is noteworthy that both Drs. Williams and Dixon were members of the Center’s External Advisory Committee at its initiation. Drs. Williams and Omary each served as Center Associate Directors with distinction. Dr. Carethers is a current member of the Internal Advisory Committee. Dr. Parkos, who is an expert in leukocyte transepithelial migration as it relates to mucosal inflammation and IBD, is a key member of the Center and recruited Dr. Asma Nusrat, an epithelial biologist whose groundbreaking work focuses on protein complexes at intercellular junctions, and now serves as a co-Director of the Center’s Protein Analysis Core. Last year the UMCGR played a central role in recruiting Dr. Jiande Chen from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine to initiate a program in neuromodulation in the treatment of chronic GI disorders. Dr. Chen holds a PhD in electrical engineering and is well funded by NIH and industry. He will play an important role in the In Vivo and Human Studies Core.
The UMCGR has also played a key role in the development of the next generations of GI-Leaders. These include Dr. Yatrik Shah, a leader in mucosal metabolism and GI homeostasis (Associate Director of the UMCGR); Dr. Jason Spence, one of the foremost experts in intestinal organoids and integrating single-cell transcriptomics data in understanding intestinal development (Director of the enteroid and organoid program for the UMCGR); Dr. Jiandie Lin, a leader in understanding how hepatocytes regulate systemic metabolism through hetero-tissue signaling; and Dr. John Kao, an expert in bacterial-host interactions in gut inflammatory disorders.
Under the leadership of Dr. Owyang, the Center continues to prosper. The UMCGR annual research funding has grown to over $34M in 2021 with 81 individual NIH grants (R01, R03, R21, U01, U54, T32, K08, K23, R56, P01, P30, K08 NRSA, contract, subcontract, and ARRA supplements). The Center also develops junior faculty into independent investigators funded by the NIH. Some of the recent junior faculty accomplishments are highlighted as follows: Drs. Brady (K08), Kamada (R21, R01), Kurlander (K23), Lyssiotis (R01), Mellinger (K23), Razumilava (K08), Singh (K23), Stidham (K23, R01) and Tapper (K23, U01). Many of these individuals were recipients of a Center Pilot & Feasibility Award. Several of our young investigators also received national recognition. These include Costas Lyssiotis (2019 AGA Young Investigator Award in Basic Science), Nobu Kamada (2020 AGA Young Investigator Award in Basic Science) and Elliot Tapper (2021 AGA Young Investigator Award in Clinical Sciences).
The Center and the GI Division are now internationally recognized as leaders in the field of digestive disease research. Center investigators have held leadership positions in professional societies, as NIH study section and the NIDDK Advisory Council members, and as editors and associate editors of leading journals.