Mesenchymal Stem Cell-based Therapies for Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Colorectal Cancer

Research Opportunity
PhD students, Masters by Research
Department / Centre
Western Health
Primary Supervisor Email Number Webpage
A/prof Kulmira Nurgali Personal web page

Summary Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), comprising 2 main pathologies, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, affects >85,000 Australians. The severity of chronic inflammation leads to gut perforations, fistulae, cancer and death. Current therapeutics for IBD are very toxic, have severe adverse effects and become ineffective over time.

Project Details

70-90 % of IBD patients undergo surgical removal of the damaged intestinal tissue during the course of the disease; about 40% of these patients require repeated surgery. Thus, the search for novel therapies for the treatment of IBD is crucial.

Gastrointestinal (GI) functions are mostly controlled by the enteric nervous system (ENS) embedded in the gut wall. We have demonstrated that structural and functional changes in the ENS can result in persistent alterations of intestinal functions long after the acute stage of inflammation. Damage to the ENS is prognostic of disease progression and recurrence. Therefore, the ENS is a viable target for effective therapies to attenuate GI dysfunction and decrease disease severity.

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have strong anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties. My group is the first in the world to provide strong evidence that treatment with MSCs alleviates enteric neuropathy and GI dysmotility associated with acute intestinal inflammation. We showed that MSCs have the ability to attenuate tissue damage and promote functional recovery by producing trophic factors that stimulate endogenous tissue repair mechanisms and induce survival of enteric neurons. To date, no studies have addressed the long-term side-effects of such therapies. Our team is in an excellent position to test the effects and mechanisms of MSC treatment using a mouse model of spontaneous chronic colitis with symptoms very similar to human IBD. Studies in this model will provide invaluable data on the efficacy of the MSC-based treatments at different stages of disease (early, advanced) and periods (remission, relapse) making the study clinically relevant.

The proposed project will investigate the role of neuroprotective factors released by MSCs in alleviation of colitis-associated enteric neuropathy. Understanding mechanisms of neuroprotective effects of MSCs will lead to target identification for therapeutic intervention and provide avenues for the development of MSC-based therapies for IBD.

Faculty Research Themes


School Research Themes

Cancer in Medicine

Research Opportunities

PhD students, Masters by Research
Students who are interested in joining this project will need to consider their elegibility as well as other requirements before contacting the supervisor of this research

Graduate Research application

Honours application

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact a supervisor.

Department / Centre


Research Node

Western Health

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