Distinct immune-metabolic niches in inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is a class of immune diseases that includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and currently has no cure. IBD stems from chronic inflammation in the intestines and can cause significant discomfort, pain and other health problems, including increased risk for certain cancers. For reasons scientists don’t understand and which can’t be fully explained by genetics, patients with IBD have widely varied symptoms, disease manifestations and treatment responses. Drs. Aida Habtezion, Nandita Garud and Carolina Tropini are leading a project to explore how patients’ immune responses, metabolism, gut microbiomes and environments may contribute to that variability, using the Stanford IBD registry developed by Dr. Habtezion. This registry includes hundreds of IBD patients with varying severity and types of IBD who have volunteered to donate tissue samples for researchers to study their disease. Better understanding the details of variation between patients, and the reasons behind that diversity, could lead to better, more tailored treatments for this class of often crippling illnesses.   

Affiliated Investigators

Aida Habtezion, MD, MSc FRCPC

Stanford University

Dr. Habtezion is a tenured Associate Professor of Medicine (Gastroenterology & Hepatology) and faculty in the Immunology PhD program and Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection at Stanford University. Dr. Habtezion is the endowed Ballinger-Swindells Family Scholar, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the School of Medicine and a member of Stanford Pancreas Cancer Research Group, Stanford Diabetes Research Center, Stanford Neuroscience Institute, Stanford Bio-X, and a fellow of Stanford Chemistry, Engineering & Medicine for Human Health (ChEM-H), and Stanford maternal & Child Health Research Institute. 

Dr. Habtezion developed the first Stanford Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) registry with biobank and leads a translational lab.  Her laboratory supported by multiple NIH, Department of Defense, and Foundation grants investigates inflammatory mechanisms in diseases affecting the pancreas and intestine with goals of identifying targetable pathways to ameliorate disease. In 2011-2012 she was the named Digestive Disease Investigator, in 2012-2015 she received the Robert Wood Johnson Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Award, in 2013 she received the Division of Gastroenterology & Hepatology Teaching Award, in 2016 the Immunology Faculty Mentor of the Year, in 2017 she received Synergy Award from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation for her research in IBD. For several years, she served as a regular NIH study section member and National Scientific Advisory Committee (NASC) member for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. In 2017 she was elected into the American Society for Clinical Investigation, and into the American Pancreatic Association (APA) Council. Recently she was named the President-elect for the American Pancreas Association. 

Nandita Garud, Ph.D

University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. Nandita Garud is an assistant professor in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department and Human Genetics department at UCLA. She is interested in understanding how natural populations evolve and has been focusing on the human microbiome and Drosophila melanogaster.

Dr. Garud completed her M.S. in Statistics and Ph.D. in Genetics at Stanford University and was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and a Stanford Center for Evolution and Human Genomics Fellowship. She developed a new statistical method to detect signatures of rapid adaptation in Drosophila melanogaster population genomic data in Dr. Dmitri Petrov’s lab, and was a finalist for the prestigious Walter Fitch Symposium Prize at the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution for this work. Dr. Garud subsequently completed her postdoctoral work at the Gladstone Institute at UCSF in Dr. Katie Pollard’s lab studying the evolution of bacteria in the human microbiome. She received the Genetics Society of America DeLill Nasser Award
and Gladstone Institutes Career Advancement Award in recognition of her work on the microbiome. Dr. Garud’s lab is now continuing to study the fascinating intersection of ecological and evolutionary forces shaping genetic diversity in the human gut microbiome. 

Carolina Tropini, Ph.D.

University of British Columbia

Dr. Carolina Tropini is an Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and the School of Biomedical Engineering. In 2020 she was awarded the Johnson & Johnson Women in STEM2D Scholar in the field of Engineering. She is a CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar in the Human & the Microbiome Program (2019-2021) and a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Scholar (2019-2024).

The Tropini lab is investigating how a disrupted physical environment due to altered nutrition or concurrent with intestinal diseases affects the microbiota and host at a multi-scale level. They are a cross-disciplinary group that incorporates techniques from microbiology, bioengineering and biophysics to create highly parallel assays and study how bacteria and microbial communities function, with the goal of translating the knowledge gained to improve human health.

Dr. Tropini conducted her Ph.D. in Biophysics at Stanford University. Her studies in the laboratory of Dr. KC Huang combined computational and experimental techniques to investigate bacterial mechanics and morphogenesis. In 2014 she received the James S. McDonnell Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship Award and she joined the laboratory of Dr. Justin Sonnenburg at Stanford. During her post-doc, Dr. Tropini applied her background in biophysics to study the impact of physical perturbations on host-associated microbial communities living in the gut.