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SLU Pediatric Gastroenterologist Receives Grant to Improve Stomach Pain for Children with Cystic Fibrosis

by Bridjes O'Neil
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ST. LOUIS – Dhiren Patel, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at SLU’s School of Medicine and SLUCare pediatric gastroenterologist, was awarded a $50,000 grant by the Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences (ICTS), a Washington University-led research consortium, of which Saint Louis University is a member. 

With the grant, Patel will advance his research exploring dysmotility of the gastrointestinal tract in patients with cystic fibrosis in order to discover newer therapies that could improve patients' quality of life. 

Dhiren Patel, M.D.
Dhiren Patel, M.D. SLU file photo. 

Cystic fibrosis is a congenital genetic disease diagnosed in childhood, characterized by abnormal functioning of ion transport channels, resulting in a thick secretion that accumulates and damages organs such as the lungs, pancreas, liver, and GI tract. Patel says this results in insufficient function of the pancreas and frequent respiratory infections. He adds much focus has been placed on lung disease in the past for CF.

"However, abnormal GI tract function and long-standing abdominal pain seem to impair the quality of life the most," Patel said. "That’s what my team and I are trying to address with newer innovative methods with this research."

The ICTS funds will support Patel’s  study, “Neuromodulation with Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Field Stimulation for Children with Cystic Fibrosis Experiencing Chronic Abdominal Pain.”

Researchers will offer IB-Stim, an FDA-approved non-surgical device that works by sending gentle electrical impulses into cranial nerve bundles located in the ear. This stimulation targets brain areas involved in processing pain and aids in the reduction of functional abdominal pain associated with irritable bowel syndrome. Researchers will evaluate the response of this therapy over four consecutive device placements in patients with cystic fibrosis who are between 11 and 18 years old.

“If we discover that it works, then the next phase is to submit our statistical findings to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and apply for larger grant funding to conduct a double-blinded placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial,” Patel said.

Patel serves as medical director of gastrointestinal motility services in the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Hepatology at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon, where he was instrumental in launching the pediatric gastrointestinal motility program, the only one of its kind in the region.

Patel is one of only a few gastroenterologists who researches cystic fibrosis-related gastrointestinal manifestations. He was awarded the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Developing Innovative Gastroenterology Specialty Training award in 2019.

“Over the time, I had several questions about cystic fibrosis intestine and motility compared to normal gut motility,” Patel said. “This area has not been explored in medicine, and I want to objectively describe 'abnormal gastrointestinal tract,' which has been termed traditionally without accurate functional description."

These grants are supported with funding from the ICTS, The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and ICTS partner institutions, including SLU and the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences 

Saint Louis University is a part of a Washington University-led research consortium, the Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences (ICTS), which has granted funding to their latest cohort as a part of the 15th annual Clinical and Translational Research Funding Program (CTRFP). The CTRFP is the most extensive internal grant funding program of the ICTS.

This year the CTRFP received over 100 letters of intent from ICTS members. ICTS and The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital awarded grants over $1.1M for investigator-initiated projects. Of the 25, four were SLU projects. Project proposals submitted promote the translation of scientific discoveries into improvements in human health. For 2022, awards were considered across three project categories: clinical/translational, community-engaged research, biostatistics, epidemiology, and research design.

Saint Louis University School of Medicine

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, liver disease, heart/lung disease, aging and brain disease, and infectious diseases.