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Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology

Research at UNC Gastroenterology

We are committed to advancing the understanding of gastrointestinal and liver diseases, and developing new treatments and cures for those who suffer from these conditions. We publish more than 250 scientific manuscripts each year. More than 20 faculty receive grant support from the federal government, foundations, and industry. Total UNC GI research funding exceeds $23 million annually, ranking us at the very top of all GI Divisions nationwide.

Focus Areas

Our nationally and internationally recognized researchers have interests that span the full spectrum of gastrointestinal and liver diseases. The following are particular areas of emphasis:

Colon Cancer

Members of the UNC GI Division have made major contributions to our understanding of the cause of colon cancer and approaches to screening and early detection. Current research is investigating the role of aspirin, calcium and vitamin D as possible preventive agents. Faculty members are also studying new techniques and policies to detect colon cancer at an early stage.
Affiliated investigators: John A. Baron, Seth D. Crockett, Temitope Keku, Sarah McGill, David F. Ransohoff, and Robert S. Sandler.

Esophageal Diseases

UNC is one of the few divisions in the country to have a center dedicated to research and clinical advances in the care of patients with esophageal diseases. Our research focuses on pre-cancerous and cancerous conditions of the esophagus, including Barrett’s esophagus, as well as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), and esophageal motility disorders. A major focus of our work is to develop new testing strategies and treatment options for these diseases. With our affiliated basic science labs, we perform translational research to better understand the pathogenesis of esophageal cancer, EoE, and GERD.
Affiliated investigators: Luke Chen, Evan S. Dellon, Swathi Eluri, Marco Patti, and Nicholas J. Shaheen.

Functional GI and Motility Disorders

The UNC Center for Functional Gastrointestinal and Motility Disorders is one of the top 4 centers internationally for research on irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, and fecal incontinence. Research includes translational studies on the stool microbiome and genetic contributions to IBS; clinical studies of the physiological and psychological mechanisms for symptoms; development and validation of diagnostic criteria; epidemiological studies; and systems-based research on health care delivery. Randomized controlled trials of biofeedback and other behavioral interventions are a unique strength of the UNC Center.
Affiliated investigators: Spencer D. Dorn, Steve Heymen, Temitope Keku, Olafur S. Palsson, Miranda Van Tilburg, William E. Whitehead.

Intestinal Stem Cells

Research in the Intestinal Stem Cell (ISC) group is focused on the isolation and characterization of stem cells from the small intestine and colon. Working in mouse models, we study the interrelations between the epithelial stem cells and cells of the stem cell niche, including Paneth cells and enteroendocrine cells. Our immediate goal is to understand the regulation of ISC function during daily turnover of the epithelium and during response of the intestine following damage (e.g. from radiation or chemotherapy). In the long term, we hope to translate our findings from mouse studies into applications in patients with disorders of the small or large intestine.
Affiliated investigators: Christopher M. Dekaney, Susan J. Henning, P. Kay Lund, Scott T. Magness.

GI Epidemiology and Health Services Research

UNC has had an NIH funded program to train physicians in digestive disease epidemiology, outcomes and health services research since 1990. Currently the division has 11 members who have advanced training in epidemiology and who study a variety of digestive conditions.
Affiliated Investigators: Shifali Arora, Edward L. Barnes, A. Sidney Barritt, John A. Baron, Seth D. Crockett, Evan S. Dellon, Spencer D. Dorn, Swathi Eluri, Paul “Skip” Hayashi, Millie D. Long, Michael D. Kappelman, Anne Peery, David F. Ransohoff, Nicholas J. Shaheen, Robert S. Sandler.

Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

The members of the UNC Multidisciplinary Center for IBD Research and Treatment are nationally and internationally recognized IBD researchers in the fields of epidemiology, genetics, mucosal immunology and the intestinal microbiome. The physicians of the IBD Center direct national and international multi-center clinical trials on novel IBD treatments. Funding for such diverse research come from organizations including the NIH, the CCFA, the Broad Foundation and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the American Gastroenterological Association and the American College of Gastroenterology.
Affiliated Investigators: Ajay S. Gulati, Jonathan J. Hansen, Hans H. Herfarth, Kim L. Isaacs, Michael D. Kappelman, Millie D. Long, R. Balfour Sartor, Shehzad Z. Sheikh.

Liver Diseases

The UNC Liver Center Faculty conduct a wide-range of basic, translational, epidemiologic, and clinical research. There are ongoing programs investigating the treatment of viral hepatitis, the role of psychosocial factors in chronic liver diseases, the molecular mechanisms of alcoholic hepatitis, the clinical management of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and hepatic encephalopathy, and the epidemiology and clinical outcomes of liver transplantation.
Affiliated Investigators: A. Sidney Barritt IV, Ramon Bataller, Jama Darling, Michael W. Fried, Paul “Skip” Hayashi.


The intestinal microbiome – defined as the cumulative genomes of the enteric microbiota – has been implicated in the genesis and perturbation of numerous gastrointestinal (GI) diseases, including inflammatory bowel diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, and colorectal cancer. Basic scientists in our division that investigate the relationship between the intestinal microbiome and GI diseases use state of the art technology to characterize the taxonomic composition, diversity, genetic content, and transcriptome of the complex microbial community in the GI tract.
Affiliated Investigators: Ian Carroll, Ajay S. Gulati, Jonathan J. Hansen, Temitope Keku, Robert S. Sandler, R. Balfour Sartor.

Center for Gastrointestinal Biology and Disease

Since 1983 the research for the division has been coordinated by the Center for Gastrointestinal Biology and Disease, one of the 17 Digestive Disease Research Centers funded by the National Institutes of Health. The mission of the center is to promote and enhance multidisciplinary digestive disease research. The center sponsors:

  • Core laboratories that provide training, technical support, laboratory animals, assays, and other services.
  • A scientific enrichment program – seminars, lectures by visiting scientists, professional workshops – that advances the intellectual environment for GI research.
  • A professional development and training program that promotes the growth of junior faculty.

Learn more about the center and its members at the Center for Gastrointestinal Biology and Disease website.