Enteric Neuropathy

Researchers in the enteric neuropathy lab

Enteric neuropathy is a degenerative neuromuscular condition of the digestive system. The enteric neuropathy laboratory at VU conducts research into the development of novel therapies for the treatment of enteric neuropathy and enteric neuropathy associated with Inflammatory Bowel Disease and the gastrointestinal side-effects of anti-cancer chemotherapy.

Our methods

Our research methods include:

  • immunohistochemistry, confocal microscopy
  • in vivo recordings of nerve activity
  • in vitro organ-bath assessment of intestinal motility
  • histological assessment
  • intracellular recordings from enteric neurons and smooth muscles
  • animal models of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, colorectal cancer, anti-cancer chemotherapy

Research projects

We have a number of research projects available for PhD, Master of Science and Honours students.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

IBD comprises two main pathologies, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. There is no cure for IBD, and it affects more than 70,000 Australians. Damage to the enteric nervous system underlies some of the symptoms and recurrence of the disease. The main aim of our research is to develop and test novel therapies that have an anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effect on the enteric nervous system, and can alleviate symptoms of gastrointestinal inflammation. Research projects involve testing novel anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective drugs, development of nanoparticles, testing mesenchymal stem cells for the treatment of IBD.

Anti-cancer chemotherapy

Chemotherapy alone, or in combination with radiation, is given before or after surgery to most cancer patients. Although chemotherapeutic drugs increase survival rate in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer, they have a wide spectrum of acute and long-term side-effects on gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and skeletal muscle functions. Severe toxic effects of anti-cancer drugs on the nervous system controlling functions of these organs might be a major factor contributing to the adverse symptoms experienced by patients. We are investigating the mechanisms underlying the side-effects of chemotherapeutic drugs and developing novel therapies to minimise these side-effects. Research projects aim to develop and test novel therapies to attenuate neurotoxicity caused by chemotherapy and alleviate the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and neuromuscular side-effects of anti-cancer chemotherapy.

Colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer and cause of cancer death in Australia. The incidence of bowel cancer in Australia is among the highest in the world. CRC afflicts one in 20 Australians during their lifetime and kills almost half of those with the disease. Research projects involve the development and testing novel drugs that have anti-cancer potential.

Inflammation-induced colorectal cancer

This project involves development of the animal model of inflammation-induced colorectal cancer, investigation of the mechanisms triggering cancerogenesis induced by inflammation and the impact of inflammation-induced colorectal cancer on the enteric nervous system. Novel anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and neuroprotective drugs will be tested for their effectiveness in prevention of inflammation-induced cancer.

Our research staff

Name Contact
Dr Kulmira Nurgali
Senior Lecturer, College of Health and Biomedicine
Phone: +61 3 83958223
Dr Ahmed Rahman
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Dr Simona Carbone
Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Our research students

Name Thesis title Contact
Rachel McQuade
PhD candidate
Effect of anti-cancer chemotherapy on secretomotor neurons
Emma Tuckett
PhD candidate
Effects of anti-cancer chemotherapy on extrinsic innervation of the gastrointestinal tract
Sarah Miller
PhD candidate
Mesenchymal stem cells for the treatment of Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Ainsley Robinson
Master of Science
Mesenchymal stem cells for the treatment of inflammation-induced enteric neuropathy
Elif Kadife
The role of EphB4 receptor and Ephrin 2 ligand in progression and metastasis of colorectal cancer
John Korytsky
Neuroprotective therapy to prevent gastrointestinal side-effects of oxaliplatin

Contact us

Kulmira Nurgali
Senior Lecturer, College of Health and Biomedicine
Phone: +61 3 8395 8223