Gut Immunity Program

BRI Gut Immunity Program researchers, Adam Lacy-Hulbert, PhD, James Lord, MD, PhD, and Oliver Harrison, DPhil (left to right).

The Gut Immunity Program at Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI) studies how immune responses in the gut go wrong and lead to inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as, celiac disease, Crohn's & colitis and other autoimmune conditions. Researchers use model systems, biorepository samples and clinical studies to understand how immune responses go awry. They also study the gut microbiome and how immune responses in the gut contribute to other autoimmune diseases.

Established in 2019 with the support of a $3 million donation from a private donor, this program brings BRI closer to understanding what triggers IBD. It also provides researchers with resources to identify new treatments by fostering collaboration and developing new research methods that can then be applied to other immune-mediated conditions. BRI’s expansive resource of cell samples and clinical research partnership with Virginia Mason leaves the institute well positioned for research involving gut immunity.

About Gut Immunity

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s Disease are chronic inflammatory immune-mediated diseases. 1.6 million people in the U.S. have IBD and the numbers are increasing. While some some treatments exist, there are no known preventions or cures. These diseases are thought to be influenced by several factors, including the immune system, gut microbes and lifestyle/environment.

Additionally, gut immunity is believed to play an important role in whole body immunity such that the health of the gut may impact other organs, including the skin and lungs.

Study Investigators

Adam Lacy-Hulbert, PhD, Principal Investigator

James Lord, MD, PhD, Principal Investigator

Oliver “Ollie” Harrison, DPhil, Principal Investigator

Gut Immunity Program Research

  • The Gut Immunity Program is studying Crohn’s Disease patients, both in remission and with active disease, in comparison with samples from patients without autoimmune disease.
  • Dr. Harrison is conducting research on T cell responses to microbes within the gut’s barrier tissues.
  • Dr. Lacy-Hulbert is using biorepository samples to study how people with in IBD react to viruses and bacteria. He compares their reactions to those of people who don't have IBD.
  • Dr. Lacy-Hulbert’s team has studied how cells can become resistant to viruses like Ebola and the flu, and they’re applying the same techniques to study how SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19, infects intestine and lung cells.
  • Dr. Lord is studying why regulatory T cells, which are supposed to keep your body from producing too much inflammation, are more prevalent – and more inflamed – in both people with and without IBD.
  • This program's new funding gives researchers the means to study these diseases using an unprecedented tool called organoids, artificially grown masses of cells or tissue that resembles an organ.