Research and Breakthroughs

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Researcher Awarded $1.5 Million to Study “Gatekeeper Protein” in the Intestines

Mark Frey, PhD, an investigator at The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, studies how the intestines repair themselves after injury. His research focuses on how proteins interact inside the cells of the epithelium—the inner lining of the intestines. He has been awarded $1.5 million by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to uncover the role of a specific protein called SPRY2, or “Sprouty 2,” in intestinal repair. 

Sprouty 2 is a signaling molecule that has been studied for its role in colon cancer, though very little is known about how it functions in the normal intestine. “There’s this real window of opportunity here,” says Dr. Frey. “Once we learn exactly how Sprouty 2 is acting in these cells, we suddenly have potential targets for treating conditions like colitis.”  

Research in Dr. Frey’s lab shows that the protein may be putting the brakes on repair processes in the intestines. “Sprouty 2 seems to have a very interesting role,” he says. “We are finding that it acts as a sort of gatekeeper. Once it’s removed, the intestines go into repair mode.” 

These studies will not only contribute to a basic understanding of intestinal function, but could have broad implications in inflammation and tissue repair of other organ systems.