Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) affect more than 1.4 million people in the US. In IBD, an abnormal immune response leads to chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. Children with IBD have increased risk of nutrient deficiencies, muscle wasting, and poor bone development. Despite pharmaceutical treatment for IBD, surgery is often required. Dietary approaches to reduce IBD morbidity are promising. For example, children eating the most fruits have half the risk of developing Crohn’s disease a form of IBD. Lack of research about fruits and IBD limits specific dietary recommendations, particularly in the vulnerable pediatric population.
Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), a native Connecticut specialty crop, is a promising fruit to develop as an IBD intervention. Our overall hypothesis is that chokeberry polyphenols and their metabolites attenuate IBD by limiting Th17 cell differentiation and cytokine release. In adoptive transfer models of experimental colitis, Th17 cells play an important role in disease initiation. We have assembled a multi-disciplinary team at the University of Connecticut Health Center and Storrs consisting of Dr. Francisco Sylvester, a pediatric gastroenterologist, Dr. Mark Brand, a horticulturist, and Dr. Bradley Bolling, a nutritionist to 1) determine which polyphenol-rich chokeberry genotypes have the greatest effect on Th17 in vitro, and 2) characterize the effect of dietary chokeberry extract on Th17 using a mouse model of IBD.
This work will help define how dietary polyphenols from chokeberry inhibit the auto-immune response in IBD. Chokeberry is a potentially valuable crop to Connecticut agriculture, but currently underutilized. Successful completion of this work well-positions our team to propose a clinical intervention with chokeberry to children with IBD.