ANSC PhD Student Hammed Ayansola Investigating The Intricate Details Involved in Gut Health and Disease
Hammed Ayansola is a firm believer that gut health equals good health. But he also knows that for people with chronic conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, gut health takes more than a good diet. As a PhD student in the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences, Ayansola is teasing apart the complex mechanisms involved in healing a damaged intestinal tract.
His goal is to understand the chemical signals that certain cells in the intestines send to one another, and how those signals trigger different steps in the gut healing process. He is specifically focused on the interactions between two types of cells that exist throughout the body–in our skin, our organs, bones and connective tissues: Mesenchymal stem cells are able to differentiate into a variety of mature cell types like cartilage, bone, fat cells, and muscles, and promote wound healing after injury.
Epithelial cells, meanwhile, line various tissues and organs in our body, including the lining of the intestines. These are the cells that become weakened and injured with chronic inflammatory diseases like irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.
“When we talk of the intestine, you know it's one of the most important tissues in the body, because it's a kind of gateway to all of the other tissues in the body, and it creates a barrier to prevent harmful substances we might likely absorb into our body system,” Ayansola said. “As intestinal cell biologists, our aim is to understand how the different cells of the intestine interact in a healthy state and in injury.”
To conduct his studies, Ayansola needs mesenchymal cells, but isolating them from the intestines is difficult and raises ethical concerns, which may be partly why the questions he is asking have not yet been answered. With the help of his advisor, Assistant Professor Younggeon Jin, Ayansola is taking an innovative approach to the challenge by using mesenchymal cells from human bone marrow, which are readily available from commercial laboratories. Studies in mice have shown that bone marrow mesenchymal cells can influence immune reactions in bone, liver and fat cells, but no one has looked at their ability to heal human gut tissues.