Harvard Digestive Diseases Center

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The Harvard Digestive Diseases Center (HDDC) represents a consortium of 60 investigators engaged in basic research relevant to digestive diseases. The scientific focus of the HDDC is epithelial structure and function. Four broad areas are represented: 1) epithelial cell function in digestion, absorption and malabsorption; 2) epithelial-microbial interactions in the pathogenesis of infectious diseases; 3) epithelial cell interactions involved in host defense and vaccine development, and 4) epithelial cell growth, differentiation and carcinogenesis. The HDDC is currently in its 20th year and is located in the GI Cell and Developmental Biology Laboratories at Children's Hospital. The Center is directed by Dr. Marian Neutra, Professor of Pediatrics. Associate Directors are Drs. Wayne Lencer (Children's), Richard Blumberg (Brigham & Women's) and Arthur Mercurio (Beth Israel Deaconess). The Harvard Digestive Diseases Center Grant has a current annual budget at $960,891 (direct and indirect costs). The research base for active members totals over $15,000,000 annually, and in a typical year HDDC members are training over 250 postdoctoral fellows and 30 predoctoral students. Twenty-six Associate Members (young investigators not yet independently funded) are also involved.

Four Scientific Cores support the research of Center members and their trainees: The Imaging Core, directed by Dr. Marian Neutra, makes available a confocal microscope facility, EM, and tissue processing for light and electron microscopy. Also available is an additional EM facility at HMS, along with the immunoflourescence and photographic facilities at all Core locations. The Epithelial Function Core, directed by Dr. Wayne Lencer, makes available a variety of epithelial cell lines and expertise in growing and evaluating their function, as well as physiologic and biophysical analysis of epithelial monolayers, and a new spinning disc confocal microscope for live cell imaging. The Protein/Lipid Biochemistry and Biophysics Core, directed by Drs. Martin Carey and Thomas Kirchhausen, offers expertise in protein and membrane/lipid chemistry, including characterization of the folding and quaternary organization of proteins, surface plasmon resonance for determination of association constants between protein partners, and single molecule electron microscopy to determine molecular shapes and domain organization of proteins. The Immunology/Microbiology Core, directed by Drs. Richard Blumberg and John Mekalanos, provides access to expertise in molecular microbial pathogenesis and mutant and vector bacterial strains, as well as a wide variety of techniques for inducing and evaluating humoral and cellular mucosal immune responses, and monoclonal antibodies not commercially available.

The HDDC funds Pilot-feasibility grants targeted to young investigators, and competitive Mini-sabbatical awards to foster new collaborations and the acquisition of new technologies. An Enrichment Program includes a seminar series focused on epithelial cell biology, mucosal immunology, microbiology, and adult and pediatric gastroenterology; and 3 annual half-day mini-symposia focused on recent advances in basic research relevant to digestive diseases.

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