Jenna Dziki is a doctoral student within the Bioengineering Department at the University of Pittsburgh with research projects in the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine laboratory of Stephen Badylak, DVM, PhD, MD. Based on Ms. Dziki’s recent grant proposal, “Extracellular Matrix Mediated Remodeling for Ulcerative Colitis Treatment,” she is the recipient of a fellowship under the 2015 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP).
Her project proposal identifies inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) as an emerging global health problem, affecting an estimated 4 million people worldwide with increasing incidence. Ulcerative colitis (UC), one form of IBD, is characterized by diffuse, chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract that confers not only a poor quality of life but it is also a risk factor for colorectal cancer. Recent advances in the understanding of UC etiology have spurred the development of new therapeutic strategies, however these remain pharmacological (e.g. steroids, immunosuppressives) or surgical (e.g. procolectomy) in nature and are associated with nonspecific systemic effects and toxicity, high recurrence and morbidity, and remain ineffective for severe, exacerbated cases of the disease.
Ms. Dziki’s work will determine whether diseased colonic mucosa can be successfully remodeled into healthy new mucosa using a regenerative medicine approach, a question that is central to improvement of therapy in UC as remodeling of diseased tissue into healthy new tissue aims to cure, not induce remission. In contrast to current surgical intervention, a regenerative medicine approach would be non-invasive and would result in colon preservation. Such significant potential of broader impact—to eliminate surgery as the standard of care of treatment of UC—warrants investigation. The results of her proposed work will lead to improved treatment strategies for UC, a disease affecting millions.
Overall, Ms. Dziki’s research focuses on the characterization of extracellular matrix (ECM)-mediated host innate immunomodulation and stem/progenitor cell activation. Specifically, Ms. Dziki is interested in macrophage polarization following ECM treatment in skeletal muscle and gut repair applications and the effects of polarized macrophages upon endogenous stem cell populations.
Congratulations, Ms. Dziki!