Dr. Laura Sly’s research program aims to improve our understanding of inflammatory bowel disease pathology and to identify and validate novel therapeutic approaches that will improve patient care. Her team has been investigating the role of SH2-containing Inositol Phosphatase (SHIP) in intestinal inflammation. SHIP is a protein that regulates enzymes involved in immune cell signaling. Sly’s research has shown that SHIP-deficient macrophages are hyper-responsive to IL-4, which drives them to an alternatively activated or M2 phenotype.
Using mice as a genetic model of M2 macrophages, Sly reported that M2 macrophages are protective against induced intestinal inflammation. Since then, her team has characterized a complimentary genetic model of M1-polarized macrophages and has identified key anti-inflammatory mediators that may be responsible for protection. Future investigations will focus on whether adoptive transfer of polarized macrophages or targeting macrophage polarization in situ can reduce intestinal inflammation in pre-clinical models of inflammatory bowel diseases.
Sly’s team has also developed a new mouse model of intestinal inflammation that shares key pathological features with Crohn’s disease. They have reported that SHIP-deficient mice develop spontaneous, discontinuous ileal inflammation accompanied by excessive collagen deposition and muscle thickening. Current research goals include targeting macrophage polarization or polarized macrophage products to reduce intestinal inflammation in pre-clinical models of inflammatory bowel disease, and identifying cell types and biochemical mechanisms that contribute to intestinal inflammation in SHIP-deficient mice. Together, these studies will identify cellular and biochemical targets and investigate new immunotherapeutic approaches that may useful in reducing intestinal inflammation in people with inflammatory bowel diseases.