Collaborative Team to Study Acid Reflux Disease

Sept. 13, 2013

The Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) has received a three-year, $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to study the brain’s role in acid reflux, also known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).

Reza Shaker, Joseph E. Geenen Professor and Chief of Gasteroenterology and Hepatology at MCW, and the director of the Digestive Disease Center, is the primary investigator of the grant, which has been continually funded for more than three decades. Dr. Shaker is also a practicing gastroenterologist at Froedtert Hospital, and is the director of the Clinical and Translational Research Institute of Southeastern Wisconsin.

More than 20% of the population suffers from GERD, which occurs when stomach acids leave the abdomen and enter the esophagus, sometimes as high as the back of the throat. Symptoms include mucosal injury, chest pain and burning pain, which can be debilitating. While drug therapies and over-the-counter remedies can manage the symptoms, to an extent, there is a lack of clear understanding of the brain mechanisms involved in reflux disease.

In this project, a multidisciplinary team of neurophysiologists, biophysicists, neurologists, molecular biologist and gastroenterologists will utilize imaging technology to characterize for the first time the effects of chronic and acute esophageal acid exposure on cortical networks in the brain. By using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers will be able to classify subtypes of GERD patients and will determine whether acid exposure has an impact on other motor networks, such as swallowing.

These studies will provide new information about GERD and how it impacts the brain, and other physical functions, and will help guide the design of new therapies.

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