Our Research

Dr Vincent Ho and Dr Jerry Zhou run the Translational Gastroenterology Laboratory at the School of Medicine, Western Sydney University. We are passionate about our research program because it holds the promise of improving symptoms, improving the quality of life and returning to patients with gastrointestinal disorders the meaningful lives they deserve. Our focus is on bench-side to bed-side research using the latest innovations and technology in the scientific field.

Current Projects

Low viscosity fibre diet in gastroparesis

Diet can have the biggest impact on patients with gastrointestinal motility disorders. The texture, taste and viscosity of foods can all be factors that exacerbate or reduce a patient's symptoms. Working with patients, we have created dietary plans tailored to specific motility disorders (e.g. gastroparesis, irritable bowel and gastric reflux). These plans offer a range of foods that help to minimise symptoms as well as provide the essential nutrients needed to sustain a healthy body. Our laboratory utilises advanced food analysis technology, such as rheometer and texture analyser, to generate in-depth information about the foods we include in our dietary plans.

Dietary fibres, especially soluble fibres, are important in controlling post-meal blood glucose and insulin levels, and lowering serum cholesterol levels. Gastroparesis is characterised by delayed gastric emptying, and as result gastroparesis patients are recommended to avoid fibre intake to manage symptoms. Little known about the types of fibre and quantity of fibre that should be withheld. We aim to investigate a range of low viscosity soluble fibre diet in individuals diagnosed with gastroparesis. These low viscosity fibres, due to their natural or artificially properties, may provide gastroparesis suffers with an essential recommended fibre diet without an increase in symptoms.

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Pace-makers of the gut

A specialised population of cells found in the gastrointestinal tract, called interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC), are responsible for gastric pace-making and slow wave movement. Loss or absence of ICC have been linked with motility disorders, such as gastroparesis, slow-transit constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome. The isolation and analysis of these cells will provide a better understanding how the human gut works.

We aim to establish a method of purifying live ICC from human gut issue. Molecular profiling will compare the different types of ICC and reveal their roles in maintaining gastrointestinal motility. This work will lay the foundations of generating artificially-derived ICC and its application in regenerative therapy.

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Microbiome profiles of the human oesophagus

Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is one of the most common diseases in Australia, with more than 2 million people affected as of 2013. The significant increase in GORD has also seen higher frequencies in its downstream diseases; oesophagitis, Barrett's oesophagus and oesophageal cancer. Diagnosis of these disorders has changed little in the last few centuries, relying on histopathological features and cellular morphology. In the last decade, micro-organisms have proven to be integral to the healthy function of the human gastrointestinal tract. The gut and its microbiome share a symbiotic relationship that has not been fully explored until recently.

Our project aims to characterise the microorganism population in the human oesophagus within a progressive spectrum of inflammatory disorders, from acid reflux to oesophageal cancer. By employing cutting-edge techniques of next generation DNA sequencing and mass spectrometry we intend to establish a database of microbiome profiles and corresponding protein expression in oesophageal tissue. It is our goal to pioneer the use of molecular techniques for the diagnosis and sub-classification of functional diseases in the oesophagus.

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Improving clinical diagnosis of motility disorders

High-resolution manometry is a gastrointestinal motility diagnostic system that measures intraluminal pressure activity in the gastrointestinal tract. Our motility clinic at the Camden Hospital have access to the latest high-resolution oesophageal and anorectal manometry systems.

Oesophageal manometry is used to assess oesophageal motor function, by providing complete physiological mapping of the esophageal motor function, from pharynx to stomach. This advanced diagnostic technology allows us to evaluate causes of gastric reflux, difficulty swallowing, functional chest pain and pre-operative evaluation. Anorectal manometry is used to assess pressure activity of the rectum and anal sphincter. This advanced diagnostic technology allows us to evaluate patients with conditions such as impaired defecation, chronic constipation, rectal prolapse or Hirschprung's Disease.

Although powerful, these pioneering techniques are still in their infancy. Therefore, our clinical research team focuses on improving diagnostic yield and determine how to best utilize these technologies in our patients.

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Mechanisms behind gastrointestinal motility

Gastrointestinal motility is generated by spontaneous slow waves called peristalsis. This movement is mediated by a network of smooth muscle cells, enteric nervous system and interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC). The ICC are "pacemaker cells" responsible for creating peristalsis. Loss or injury to these networks is associated with a number of motility disorders. We have developed a method to visualise the ICC network from gastrointestinal tissue. This technique can be applied to deep tissue biopsies from patients to uncover the underlying mechanisms behind their motility disorder or to investigate the effects of motility drug treatments.

The Gastrointestinal motility monitor (GIMM) is a state-of-the-art organbath system specialised to investigate GI motility in small animal models. The GIMM system coupled with our in-house built software is able to tract intestinal slow waves in real time and monitor changes, such as introduction of drugs. This allows us to get an better understanding of GI physiology and functional changes that can affect motility. Immunofluorescently tagged antibodies against ICC allow our researchers to quantify the numbers of ICCs after treatment and correlate the findings with the physiology data.

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