Dr. Iliyan D. Iliev, an associate professor of immunology in medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, co-director of the Microbiome Core and a member of the Jill Roberts Institute for Research in Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) at Weill Cornell Medicine, is the lead investigator on a grant to Weill Cornell Medicine from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to target pathogenic fungi in patients with Crohn’s disease.
Dr. Iliev teamed up with Dr. Randy Longman, current director of the Jill Roberts Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease and an associate professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, and Dr. Ellen Scherl, founding director of the Jill Roberts Center and the Jill Roberts Professor of Inflammatory Bowel Disease at Weill Cornell Medicine for the study.
The Helmsley Charitable Trust is the largest private philanthropy focused on Crohn’s disease, which is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that impacts more than two million people around the world. The organization aims to address the unmet needs of people living with the disease by investing in research and technologies that will improve care and treatment for patients while also pursuing a cure. The 2.5-year, $1.9 million grant will fund a clinical study exploring the effect of antifungal drugs in Crohn’s patients harboring intestinal fungal strains that produce a gut-damaging toxin.
“This support opens up an avenue to delve into an area that seamlessly builds upon our extensive laboratory research,” Dr. Iliev said. “We will now apply this knowledge in a clinical setting to investigate the impact of targeting specific fungi in Crohn’s disease."
“The clinical impact of fungal overgrowth in a subset of patients with inflammatory bowel disease is unknown. And this study may elucidate potential novel therapeutic targets in inflammatory bowel disease, which we are very excited about,” Dr. Scherl said. “The clinical and scientific collaboration with Dr. Iliev’s group and Dr. Longman will be transformative.”
“This study provides us the opportunity to translate pre-clinical findings and to test the therapeutical potential for anti-fungal strategies in Crohn’s disease for the very first time,” Dr. Longman said.
Dr. David Artis, the Michael Kors Professor of Immunology, founding director of The Jill Roberts Institute for Research in Inflammatory Bowel Disease and founding director of the Friedman Center for Nutrition and Inflammation at Weill Cornell Medicine added, “this latest support from Helmsley to Weill Cornell offers tremendous opportunities to better understand the relationships between fungi and IBD and define new avenues to treat and prevent this group of debilitating diseases”.
Research by Dr. Iliev’s team has demonstrated that IBD patients harbor certain strains of fungi, predominantly Candida albicans, that produce a toxin that drives intestinal inflammation in preclinical models. The award will fund new research to identify Crohn’s disease patients who might benefit from the antifungal therapy based on underlining susceptibilities and the presence of specific fungi in their intestines. The team will use recently developed biomarkers to evaluate the response in patients and the effects on their microbiomes.