Sivagnanam Receives 2011 NASPGHAN Young Faculty Investigator Award

Mamata Sivagnanam

September 19, 2011, La Jolla, CA – Dr. Mamata Sivagnanam, Asst. Professor and physician-scientist in the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at UC San Diego and Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, was awarded this year's NASPGHAN Young Faculty Investigator Award for her abstract entitled, EpCAM Deficient Mice Show Significant Morbidity and Pathology Resembling Congenital Tufting Enteropathy.

"Dr. Sivagnanam should be very proud of her work because of the strong competition this year,” says Kathleen Schwarz, M.D, President of NASPGHAN, the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition. “She has joined a distinguished group [of physician-scientists] who have won this award. I am certain that this will be the continuation of a very fruitful research career for her.”

Sivagnanam first came to UC San Diego as a Fellow, with primarily a clinical background. Through the mentorship of Drs. Joel Lavine and Hal Hoffman, she was encouraged to take a deeper look at severe patient cases she saw as a physician and turn to the research bench for answers.

“I have always felt that my mentors are personally invested in me – and awards like these are a tribute to their incredible support and encouragement,” shares Sivagnanam. “I’m also really grateful to my research group, whose dedication and tireless commitment to research excellence has contributed to a better understanding of CTE over the past few years.”

Sivagnanam first sought answers when she saw a child with a condition known as Congenital Tufting Enteropathy (CTE), an inherited intractable diarrhea of infancy where the child has chronic diarrhea, electrolyte imbalances, and impaired growth. Most cases of CTE lead to intestinal failure and require prolonged parenteral nutrition or small bowel transplant. In recent years, Sivagnanam’s research group has identified mutations in the gene for Epithelial Cell Adhesion molecule (EpCAM) present in CTE patients.

This award-winning abstract describes the outcomes of a follow-up project - to elucidate the role of EpCAM in intestinal development and function using in vivo model of intestinal epithelial cell function. While previous groups have shown EpCAM over-expressing mice or mice with absent expression, the Sivagnanam research group has developed a novel mouse model with mutant EpCAM. With the deletion of exon 4 of EpCAM (as seen in some CTE patients), this is the first successful model to have decreased, but not absent, EpCAM expression.

“We hope this new model will serve to further reveal the mechanisms of CTE, potentially lead to improved therapeutic options, and give us a better understanding of the normal workings of the intestine ,” says Sivagnanam.

Sivagnanam will be invited to present her work at the 1st Plenary Session at the Annual NASPGHAN meeting in Orlando, Florida, on Friday, October 21, 2011.

ABOUT NASPAGHAN

The mission of the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition is to advance understanding of normal development, physiology and pathophysiology of diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and liver in children, improve quality of care by fostering the dissemination of this knowledge through scientific meetings, professional and public education, and policy development, and serve as an effective voice for members and the profession.

The membership of NASPGHAN consists of more than 1400 pediatric gastroenterologists, predominantly in 46 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Mexico and 8 provinces in Canada.

Written by: Shivani Singh, M.S., Sr. Writer, Dept of Pediatrics, UC San Diego, Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego