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A new £1.5M grant from the Medical Research Council (MRC) to the Powrie Group at the Kennedy Institute will help define different pathotypes of inflammatory bowel diseases that could lead to better and more focused treatments for patients.

Woman with stomach pain © Shutterstock

The intestine is one of the largest immune organs in the body. When healthy, it is regulated by a complex communication network which ensures that the intestinal immune cells peacefully co-exist with the large number of microbes that inhabit the gut.

When there is disruption to any of the communication pathways, the wall of the intestinal wall can become inflamed and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), encompassing Crohn's disease (CD), ulcerative colitis (UC) and IBD unclassified (IBDu), can develop.

There is no cure for IBD and patients can go through unpredictable periods of relapse and remission. Genes, diet and other environmental factors all play a part meaning the disease is never the same for any patient and the response to therapies can vary, with more than 1 out of 2 patients not responding to treatment in the long-term. For this reason, personalised therapies are not standard practise for IBD.

"In a previous study we were able to group patients with IBD, that do not respond well to current therapies, based on their cellular and molecular characteristics or 'pathotype'", said Professor Dame Fiona Powrie, Director of the Kennedy Institute. "The MRC funding will enable us build on this work and characterise these IBD pathotypes in more detail. By understanding the pathotypes of different patient groups, we move towards being able to discover and direct new therapies to those most likely to benefit."

Mathilde Pohin, Postgraduate Research Scientist in the Powrie lab, is taking the role of a co-investigator on the grant, supporting the Institute's policy of naming postdocs as co-applicants on grants. It represents a first important step towards an independent career in science, acquiring skills in securing project funding, organising programme meetings and collaborations, on top of the experimental work.

The study will be done in partnership with the Translational Gastroenterology Unit, Nuffield Department of Medicine (University of Oxford) and the University of Cambridge.

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