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Targeted Areas of Research

Chronic inflammation of digestive organs can increase the risk for developing cancer. A multi-disciplinary approach to patients with these problems has led to early diagnosis and effective treatment, leading to cure. Surveillance programs can now identify patients who are on the verge of getting cancer so that they can be treated before cancer develops.

Here at the UW Division of Gastroenterology, we believe, along with our partners, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, that we will dramatically push forward the frontiers of scientific discovery and patient care in the next 10 years. We will be able to detect GI cancers at their precursor stages and intervene so that they can be prevented or cured. We will offer cutting-edge treatment for GI cancers, resulting in superior outcomes.

Biorepository & Patient Registry

The Biorepository and Registry form a highly valuable research core that is actively collecting tissue samples and health information from prospectively consented patients, who have agreed to allow access to their health data and to donate biosamples for the sake of advancing science and ultimately improving our ability to care for patients. Collected biospecimens are processed using strict, state-of-the-art protocols that ensure their long term viability and future utility in discovery science.

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Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, affecting an estimated 148,000 Americans each year and claiming more than 56,000 lives annually. In fact, 1 in 20 people will develop colon cancer at some time during their lives. Most colon cancer starts as a precancerous growth (polyp) that can be detected and removed during colonoscopy.

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Esophagitis & Esophageal Cancer

Discoveries in the past decade have determined that most gastric cancer is caused by a bacterium called H. pylori that induces chronic inflammation of the stomach (gastritis). Gastritis patients from certain geographic areas are more prone to developing cancer of the stomach.

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Gastrointestinal Motility Disorders

This includes a wide spectrum of disorders, such as difficulty in swallowing, abdominal distention and bloating, and paralysis of the stomach (gastroparesis) or the intestines (psuedo-obstruction). Motility symptoms, such as alteration in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation), together with pain, can be incapacitating in the common syndrome known as irritable bowel syndrome.

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Inflammatory Bowel Diseases & Intestinal Cancer

Inflammatory bowel diseases (ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease) are common and vexing problems. The causes and triggers for these conditions remain unclear, and consistently effective treatment continues to be elusive.

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Intestinal Microbiome

We are home to an enormous microbial ecosystem containing more than 100 trillion bacteria, a number equal to our own human cells. More astonishing than the number of bacteria is the sheer amount of genetic diversity these bacteria contribute to our physiology. It is estimated that for every one of our genes, there are approximately 145 microbial genes. This roughly equals 3.3 million bacterial genes in the intestine to the 23,000 in the human genome (Qin, 2010). Collectively, these bacteria are referred to as the microbiota and they perform essential functions in the maintenance of our health. However, shifts in the composition, distribution and/or function of the microbiota have been implicated in diseases of the GI tract such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and colorectal cancer (CRC).

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Liver Diseases

The liver is the single largest internal organ in the human body and serves essential and vital functions. With the increasing use of industrial and environmental chemicals, the ingestion of over-the-counter medication and unregulated health-food supplements, physicians are seeing an increased number of acute liver failures. UW Medicine is one of several centers in the nation participating in a program to admit, investigate, and treat patients with acute liver failure.

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Pancreatitis & Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Every year, 30,000 to 40,000 people living in this country die of the disease. Perhaps even more alarming, the incidence of pancreatic cancer appears to be increasing.

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Hypotheses in Medicine

At the UW Division of Gastroenterology, we believe that it is important to keep an open mind. The evolution of science and medicine is punctuated with the careful cross examination of many seemingly far-fetched hypotheses. We believe that there is a treasure of important information and discoveries hidden in these unproven hypotheses. They should be vigorously examined, challenged, verified or rejected by scientific facts.

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