University of Michigan Center for Gastrointestinal Research


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Welcome to the web site for the University of Michigan Center for Gastrointestinal Research (UMCGR). Advances in biochemistry, cell biology and molecular biology have led to the discovery of many novel genes and proteins and an explosion of information regarding their cellular mechanisms of action.  However, the physiological roles of many of these molecules in normal gastrointestinal (GI) functions remain to be defined.  There is even less known about their roles in pathogenesis of various GI disorders. Because of the disparate nature of the demands of clinical and basic science investigation, relatively limited progress has been made in approaching some of these questions in a unified and broad-based manner. As basic investigation has become more sophisticated and difficult to fund, researchers have become more isolated and narrow in the focus of their interest and clinicians have struggled to keep pace with recent scientific discoveries.  These basic investigators are at times unaware of the important clinical implications and applications of their work, while clinicians are often ignorant of potentially useful scientific approaches for examining clinical questions. In a few isolated instances when clinicians and basic scientists have been able to collaborate in elucidating the mechanism of specific disorders, substantial progress has been made. It is the purpose of this Center to promote close interaction and free exchange of ideas in order to gain insight into the pathophysiological significance of newly identified signaling molecules or transduction pathways The overarching goal of the Center is to investigate signal transduction mechanisms regulating homeostasis and GI disorders. Our approach includes studies on genetics and gene regulation, cellular signaling pathways, receptors and ion channels. The approach will be utilized by the three major research themes reflecting the common research interests of numerous investigators affiliated with the Center. Our research themes include 1) Neurobiology of visceral pain, enteric motility and appetite control, 2), Molecular and cellular mechanisms of gut inflammation, and 3) Cell growth, Differentiation and Programmed Cell Death.

Chung Owyang, M.D.

History of the Center - The Center has entered its 32st year of NIH funding and service to the research community at the University of Michigan as of August 2017. The University of Michigan established a reputation many years ago as a leading institution in gastrointestinal research with the clinical expertise of H. Marvin Pollard and the investigative talents of Horace Davenport. By the early 1980's the pool of researchers interested in gastroenterology had diminished considerably to the extent that no investigators in the gastrointestinal unit had independent grant funding from the NIH and no recognizable interdisciplinary collaborative efforts were ongoing. In the early 1980s, the University committed major new resources in the form of research space and start-up funding to gastroenterology and recruited Drs. Tadataka Yamada and Chung Owyang to rebuild the Division of Gastroenterology.

Juanita Merchant, M.D., Ph.D.

Because of their specific research in neurohumoral peptides of the gut, which had broad implications in a wide variety of systems, they were 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 the University of Michigan into a collaborative proposal for establishment of a Center for Digestive Diseases at the University of Michigan. This proposal and a simultaneous proposal for a NIH funded gastrointestinal research training program were both successfully funded. These two grants have served as the foundation on which research interests in digestive diseases were developed and greatly expanded at the University of Michigan.

Impact and Research Base - The remarkable impact of the University of Michigan Center for Gastrointestinal Research is further exemplified by the fact that now, in contrast to the situation of just a few years ago, funding for research related to this Digestive Disease Center, currently $26.8 million in digestive disease-related funding (48% from NIDDK) and $16.6 million in other research grant support, represents nearly 10% of the total research base of the University of Michigan Medical School. In addition, significant institutional support ($1M) has been amassed to support our objectives.

The Center is comprised of 58 primary Investigators who have demonstrated a mutual interest in its various activities and contributed substantially to its research base by participating in Core laboratories, serving on committees, or engaging in collaborative interactions with other Center Investigators. Although the Investigators of the Center have diverse research goals, a common thread of interest in research ties their laboratories through a focus on the biochemistry or physiology of the neurohormonal mediators of communication between different cells or organs of the body. Some Investigators focus on basic molecular research while others work on more integrated systems. Some work primarily on gastrointestinal research problems with only a peripheral interest in peptide hormones while others work with gut peptides in non-gastroenteric organs. Center Investigators have been extremely productive during our last 5 year funding period, contributing 519 publications as a result of the core services provided through the UMCGR.

M. Bishr Omary, M.D. Ph.D.

Our Center disseminates new information, provides a forum for intellectual exchange and helps to identify specific questions amenable to multilateral collaborative research approaches. It provides a collective expertise, which can be tapped through the various Core Laboratories structured within the Center. The availability of such expertise and Core services enables investigators to widen the scope of their research. Through the mechanism of Pilot/Feasibility Project funding, investigators pursue new areas of research as well as develop talented young associates in their laboratories. As a testament to this programs success, over the past ten years pilot projects representing a total investment of $1,050,000 direct costs, ($1,577,500 total costs) have generated 20 NIH awards (2 K08, 2 R21, R03, R00, 2 U01, U19 and 11 R01s) totaling $18,132,140 direct costs ($27,142,287 total costs); a 17 fold return on investment. The Center, in short, has become the fulcrum of activity that galvanizes the efforts of the large and established group of investigators involved in gastrointestinal research that exists at the University of Michigan. 

News & Events


3/18/19 - Deadline for Pilot Feasibility Applications

5/18/19 - Digestive Disease Week in San Diego, CA.

We are one of 17 Silvio O. Conte Digestive Diseases Research Core Centers

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U-M Health System
6520 MSRB1
1150 West Medical Center
Ann Arbor, MI 48109


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