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Co-principal investigators Irene Sarosiek, M.D., (left) and Richard McCallum, M.D., (right) have received a $1.8 million grant to support basic research and clinical trials on patients living with gastroparesis. Photo by Brian Wancho.

$1.8 Million Grant Funds Digestive Disease Research in El Paso

Co-principal investigators Richard McCallum, M.D., and Irene Sarosiek, M.D., have received a five-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The funds will support basic research and clinical trials on patients living with a digestive disorder named gastroparesis.

“Gastroparesis is prevalent here in El Paso; about 100,000 people in our region are affected by it,” says Dr. McCallum, a professor at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso). “This grant will help us collect new and important data on how the disorder affects Hispanics and others, but it will also help us provide health care to more patients.”

Gastroparesis is a disorder in which food moves through the stomach much slower than normal. The condition affects more than 10 million Americans and symptoms include chronic nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In severe cases, a permanent feeding tube is required to ensure adequate nutrition; a medical implant to stimulate the digestive system can also be provided for patients with profoundly severe, drug-resistant symptoms.

With the funding, the TTUHSC El Paso team will enroll patients to help test a new drug that may reduce the severity and frequency of their gastrointestinal problems. They’ll also examine the effectiveness of a novel diagnostic procedure for the condition. The technique was invented by the TTUHSC El Paso team, and if successful, could replace an invasive surgical procedure that’s currently used in patients with gastroparesis.

Individuals with gastroparesis who opt to participate in the TTUHSC El Paso studies will receive free health care related to the disorder, such as access to diagnostic tests like endoscopies and the latest treatment options.

“Many El Paso patients appreciate the opportunity to participate in our NIH-funded research,” Dr. Sarosiek says. “It gives them access to cutting-edge health care that they otherwise would not receive, and at the same time, it helps us find possible risk factors that could play a role in initiating the progression of gastroparesis in affected patients.”

Drs. McCallum and Sarosiek are studying the disease as part of their membership in the Gastroparesis Clinical Research Consortium (GpCRC), a prestigious national partnership that focuses on the cause of gastroparesis and therapies for the disorder. Membership includes Baylor College of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University and the Mayo Clinic, as well as TTUHSC El Paso.

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