Balancing immunity and inflammation in the intestine

The human gut is a unique environment, simultaneously tolerating an endless variety of food particles and billions of helpful bacteria while retaining the ability to recognize and respond to potentially dangerous infectious diseases. In the developing world, gut infections such as cholera, amoebic dysentery, and parasitic worms are the leading causes of disease and death and are a major burden on development. Gut inflammation is also involved in inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer. More than 200,000 Canadians suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (one of the world's highest incidence rates) and each year more than 22,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

Dr. Colby Zaph studies mouse models of intestinal infection and inflammation in the gut in order to identify and understand the molecules and cells that regulate the balance between immunity and inflammation. His unique approach is to study the immune responses that develop after the gut is infected with a worm parasite called whipworm (Trichuris), which infects more than 800 million people globally.

Dr. Zaph hopes that his work will aid in understanding how the body knows it is infected (sensing), how it kills the invading organisms (inflammation), and how it turns off the response to stop inflammatory diseases from developing (resolution). The results from his research will hopefully identify pathways and targets that can both promote protective immune responses and eliminate inflammatory diseases of the intestine, including infectious diseases, inflammatory bowel diseases, and colorectal cancer.