HB-EGF protects intestines from a variety of injuries, pair of studies suggests

August 20, 2013

It's not often that one treatment offers therapeutic potential for multiple conditions. However, after more than two decades of research, Gail Besner, MD, principal investigator for the Center for Perinatal Research and pediatric surgeon for the Department of Pediatric Surgery at Nationwide Children's Hospital, and her team have found that this may just be the case with HB-EGF, or heparin-binding EGF-like growth factor.

Having discovered the growth factor in 1990, Dr. Besner most recently conducted two studies in mice published in June in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery that reveal the potential of HB-EGF to protect the from diverse types of injury. The first offers evidence that treatment with the growth factor may help the intestines protect themselves from damage after exposure to .

"Many patients are treated with radiation therapy for pelvic and abdominal cancers each year, and over half suffer from injury to the intestines as a result, which may limit their ability to receive additional therapy," Dr. Besner says. "In the future, treatment with HB-EGF may protect the intestines from this injury, enabling patients to receive more therapy, or at least not suffer as much damage from the radiation."

HB-EGF is a protein that stimulates cells to grow and to move. Cell proliferation and migration are critical to wound healing, including the healing of intestinal . In addition, HB-EGF decreases the production of multiple substances that are formed upon intestinal injury and that would normally act to worsen the injury. This allows the protein to protect the intestine from further harm.

To boost the potential protective potency of HB-EGF, Dr. Besner and her lab directed a second study involving stem cell administration, which is increasingly used to protect organs from injury. "We demonstrated that administration of HB-EGF protects the intestines from injury, and administration of protects the intestines from injury—but treatment with both therapies simultaneously acts synergistically to further protect the intestines from injury."

Together, the results of the two studies offer Dr. Besner encouragement for a healthier future for her tiny patients. Newborns, especially those born prematurely, are at particular risk of an injury to the intestines known as necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC. Dr. Besner's research suggests HB-EGF may hold significant clinical potential for these babies.

"The mortality of NEC is too high, despite widespread research on it—if I operate on one of these babies, I have to tell the parents that their baby only has a 50 percent chance of living," Dr. Besner says. "Because of this, I am very motivated to find a cure. Mounting work from our laboratory shows that HB-EGF can protect the intestines from NEC. It is our hope that, in the future, we can administer HB-EGF to newborns most at risk of developing NEC in order to prevent them from developing this devastating disease."

Having studied the potential for therapeutic applications of HB-EGF for more than two decades, Dr. Besner is optimistic about the protein's potential. "We have some very exciting new lines of HB-EGF research going on in our laboratory at present, and we feel that the future for HB-EGF use in the treatment of human clinical disease remains bright."

Explore further: Epidermal growth factor aids stem cell regeneration after radiation damage

More information: Matthews MA, Watkins D, Darbyshire A, Caron WE, Besner GE. Heparin-Binding EGF-like Growth Factor (HB-EGF) Protects the Intestines from Radiation Therapy-Induced Intestinal Injury. Journal of Pediatric Surgery. 2013 Jun, 48(6):1316-1322.

Watkins DJ, Yang J, Matthews MA, Besner GE. Synergistic Effects of HG-EGF and Mesenchymal Stem Cells in a Murine Model of Intestinal Ischemia/Reperfusion Injury. Journal of Pediatric Surgery. 2013 Jun, 48(6):1323-1329.

Related Stories

Epidermal growth factor aids stem cell regeneration after radiation damage

February 3, 2013
Epidermal growth factor has been found to speed the recovery of blood-making stem cells after exposure to radiation, according to Duke Medicine researchers. The finding could open new options for treating cancer patients ...

Cancer biology: Keeping bad company

January 16, 2013
The p53 tumor suppressor protein manages DNA repair mechanisms in response to genetic damage and kills off precancerous cells before they multiply. The loss of p53 due to mutation greatly increases risk of tumorigenesis. ...

Modified formula aims to prevent death in premature infants

May 10, 2013
Necrotizing Entercolitis, an infection and inflammation that causes destruction of the intestine,affects about 10,000 babies a year in the country, and mortality rates are roughly 40 percent.

Rogue receptor opens door for rare kidney disease

September 25, 2011
Effects of a particularly devastating human kidney disease may be blunted by making a certain cellular protein receptor much less receptive, according to new research by scientists from North Carolina State University and ...

Recommended for you

World's first child hand transplant a 'success'

July 19, 2017
The first child in the world to undergo a double hand transplant is now able to write, feed and dress himself, doctors said Tuesday, declaring the ground-breaking operation a success after 18 months.

Knee surgery—have we been doing it wrong?

July 18, 2017
A team of University at Buffalo medical doctors have published a study that challenges a surgical practice used for decades during arthroscopic knee surgery.

New tools help surgeons find liver tumors, not nick blood vessels

July 17, 2017
The liver is a particularly squishy, slippery organ, prone to shifting both deadly tumors and life-preserving blood vessels by inches between the time they're discovered on a CT scan and when the patient is lying on an operating ...

Researchers discover indicator of lung transplant rejection

July 13, 2017
Research by scientists at Dignity Health St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center's Norton Thoracic Institute was published in the July 12, 2017 issue of Science Translational Medicine titled "Zbtb7a induction in alveolar ...

New device could make closing surgical incisions a cinch

July 7, 2017
Like many surgeons, Dr. Jason Spector is often faced with the challenge of securely closing the abdominal wall without injuring the intestines. If the process goes awry, there can be serious consequences for patients, including ...

Success with first 20 patients undergoing minimally invasive pancreatic transplant surgery

June 29, 2017
Surgeons at Johns Hopkins Medicine report that their first series of a minimally invasive procedure to treat chronic pancreas disease, known as severe pancreatitis, resulted in shorter hospital stays, less need for opioids ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.