Francisco Sylvester, MD

Chief, Pediatric Gastroenterology Professor, Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology

Dr. Sylvester is a pediatric gastroenterologist whose research interests include mucosal immunology, vitamin D and bone metabolism in pediatric inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). His lab conducts human translational studies grounded on clinical observations in children with IBD and formulates hypotheses based on these findings, which are tested in mouse models and cell culture systems. The aim of his lab is to uncover pathogenic pathways that can be targeted for new therapies.

Crohn’s disease can affect normal skeletal development and linear growth in children. Children with Crohn’s disease can have significant deficits in bone mineral density, alterations in bone geometry and growth stunting.

Dr. Sylvester’s lab is investigating the use of Osteoprotegerin (OPG) as part of the innate immune response to infection in the lining of the colon. OPG slows down the formulation and development of osteoclasts, a type of bone cell that breaks down bone tissue in the body. Dr. Sylvester’s group has discovered that the colonic epithelium exhibits robust expression of OPG, and that colonic expression of OPG tracks with disease severity of ulcerative colitis, a type of IBD. They have also demonstrated that mice that lack OPG are resistant to experimental colitis and are investigating ways to block OPG activity in the lumen of the colon as a new therapeutic strategy to treat colitis in humans.

Links to more information:
Pediatric Gastroenterology and Hepatology at UNC Children’s Hospital

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