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Guts and bugs: GSBS student talks GI immunity and inflammation in virtual seminar series

By Kylee Denesha

UMass Medical School Communications

julio 01, 2020
Sage Foley

Sage Foley, PhD candidate in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, presented her research at a virtual event hosted by Karen Edelblum, PhD, of Rutgers University, called “Guts & Bugs: A Virtual GI Seminar Series.” The seminar features scientists and graduate students from all over the world and serves as a platform for scientific discourse during a time of social distancing. Foley’s session took place on June 11.

“Dr. Edelblum at Rutgers organized this event as an opportunity for people to present and share their work, specific to gastrointestinal immunity and the microbiome,” Foley said. “This was a great virtual alternative for us scientists-in-training to still communicate, since so many seminars and conferences were cancelled due to COVID-19.”

Foley was approached by her principal investigator, Beth McCormick, PhD, who suggested she present her thesis research. Dr. McCormick, the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research Chair and vice chair and professor of microbiology & physiological systems, is founding director of the UMass Center for Microbiome Research. Foley is studying microbiome regulation of intestinal protein expression.

“I’m working to figure out which individual bacteria, or bacterial communities, regulate expression of a particular protein inside the intestinal epithelium, called P-glycoprotein (P-gp),” she said. “This protein is found to release compounds that suppress detrimental inflammation, so I’m studying this process and when it is dysfunctional in settings of inflammatory bowel diseases.”

The research utilizes mouse models to look closely at intestinal systems. Foley said they use different antibiotics to perturb the microbiome and then analyze the outcomes.

“We’ve also collected human samples through a collaboration with Jean Marie Houghton, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, and the UMass Memorial Endoscopy Center, so we are able to look at everything from the microbiome, to protein expression, to intestinal lumen components,” she said. “Our goal is to elucidate the mechanism that regulates P-gp expression, thereby promoting a healthy gut. We have validated our findings in the human patient samples, and are moving forward to identify the intracellular signaling networks that are involved.”

Week to week, “Guts & Bugs” showcases a number of GI-related topics, ranging from infant gut microbiome to fungal suppression by the human gut.

“I think this definitely helped me improve my presentation skills,” said Foley, who is finishing her fifth year at UMMS. “This was the first time I spoke to the research community outside of UMass, and it was definitely intimidating, but I think it was a good time to do so, being at the later stages of my PhD.

“It’s exciting to me that everything is translational to the human setting,” she said. “My initial experiments are typically geared toward reducing it down at a more focused level, and it’s exciting to me to be able to relate everything directly to the human disease.”