Basic Laboratory Studies in Gastroenterology

At Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, leading pediatric gastroenterologists are conducting laboratory and clinical research in pursuit of new and better therapies for disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, liver and pancreas.

The National Institutes of Health-funded laboratory of Mark E. Lowe, MD, PhD, is investigating lipases and the role the enzymes play in digestion and disease. A deeper understanding of lipases offers many possible benefits, including new therapies for acute pancreatitis, better ways to feed chronically ill infants and more effective appetite control. Dr. Lowe is chief of pediatric gastroenterology at Children’s.

Lipases and disease

Dr. Lowe’s work in the laboratory is providing important details about acute pancreatitis, a significant cause of illness and death in the United States. Digestive enzymes synthesized in the pancreas have long been suspected of being involved in the disease. Using mouse models, Dr. Lowe is investigating the ways pancreatic lipases contribute to the damage the pancreas incurs during acute pancreatitis. He also is investigating the role of a membrane protein, Itmap 1, in determining the course of the disease. Early evidence suggests it is a protective mechanism – mice missing this protein are more susceptible to pancreatitis.

Lipases and digestion

The role lipases play in the digestion of dietary fat is another issue Dr. Lowe’s work in the lab is helping to define. Researchers are investigating the function of various lipases and procolipase in newborns. Procolipase is a pancreatic protein that aids lipases. Such basic knowledge is necessary to improve nutritional therapies for infants with chronic illnesses – such as kidney failure and cystic fibrosis – who have high, difficult-to-satisfy energy needs.

Enterostatin, appetite regulation, and weight loss

Dr. Lowe also is investigating the role of enterostatin in appetite and weight loss. Enterostatin is a peptide released by procolipase in the duodenum. When enterostatin is injected into animals, they tend to decrease their voluntary intake of fat, eat less and lose weight – a response that suggests the peptide may play an important role in appetite regulation and in determining the body weight set point.