Disease area: Functional and Motility Disorders

Functional and motility gastrointestinal (GI) disorders are disorders of GI function, affecting gut contractions, sensation and the brain-gut axis. It is estimated that 25 million Americans have functional GI disorders. Common examples of such disorders are irritable bowel syndrome (or IBS - altered bowel consistency combined with abdominal pain that is usually relieved with a bowel movement) and functional dyspepsia (ulcer-like symptoms - upper abdominal pain, feeling of indigestion).

Less common but perhaps even more distressing examples are conditions such as gastroparesis (“lazy” stomach, causing nausea and vomiting) and achalasia (a disorder of the lower esophageal sphincter that causes severe difficulty in swallowing). Similarly, most patients with severe constipation usually have a functional basis to this problem. Other conditions that have a prominent functional component include common diseases such as gastro-esophageal reflux (GERD).

Focus on the Enteric Nervous System

Motility and functional disorders arise from disorders of the enteric nervous system and its associated elements. The enteric nervous system (ENS), often referred to as the “second brain”, is a neuronal network present in the wall of our bowels and shares many molecular and morphological components with the central (CNS) and peripheral (PNS) nervous systems with which it is intimately connected. Major neurotransmitters, receptors and transporters present in the CNS and the PNS are also present in the ENS. Although linked to the nervous system, it can and does operate independently of the brain and the spinal cord. We plan to take advantage of the unique functionality of the ENS to create innovative treatment options for symptoms present in a large variety of gastrointestinal diseases.