The grant comes as UCF’s Dr. Saleh Naser, a professor of microbiology at the college’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, continues to participate in a clinical trial to test whether a new antibiotic therapy can be used to treat patients with the debilitating chronic condition.

Dr. Naser’s research centers on Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis, known as MAP. The bacterium is found in about half the cows in the United States, and can be spread to humans through milk, beef and produce fertilized by cow manure. Dr. Naser believes MAP is an underlying cause of Crohn’s.

Dr. Naser is using some of the legislative grant to examine the role of the MAP bacterium and to understand the disease mechanism in  Crohn’s patients with a genetic predisposition to the disease. “I need to learn more about the bacterium and the host to better determine who is at risk,” he said. “We need to understand why one person can eat a piece of meat and end up with Crohn’s disease while others can be fine.”

More than 750,000 Americans suffer from Crohn’s, a disease that currently has no cure. According to the latest Florida Department of Health statistics, 35,000 Floridians have Crohn’s disease – or 222 per 100,000 people. The numbers are higher with people suffering from ulcerative colitis, Dr. Naser said. He emphasized that because MAP is present in our food chain, “understanding the role of MAP in Crohn’s disease should impact diagnosis and treatment of the disease and ultimately may impact regulatory policies to support public health and food safety.”

The University of Miami is using its share of the grant for clinical research. Dr. Sampath Parthasarathy, interim associate dean for research at the College of Medicine, is using a portion of the grant to examine whether inflammatory agents in fried foods cause Crohn’s-like symptoms or exacerbate symptoms in patients who have the disease through bacterial infection. Understanding whether there is a dietary component in Crohn’s symptoms could lead to preventative measures and shed light on non-microbial causes of the disease, Dr. Parthasarathy said.

Dr. Griffith Parks, director of the Burnett School, applauded the legislative award. “The work of all those involved is an impressive show of collaborative efforts to address this devastating disease,” he said.

Meanwhile, more than 40 clinical sites in three different countries are participating in the UCF clinical trial that is testing whether MAP is present in patients before, during and after a one-year treatment an antibiotic regimen known as RHB 104.

Crohn’s patients have learned about the clinical trials through and social media and Dr. Naser is receiving daily inquiries from patients wanting to volunteer in the study. Several boxes of specimens are arriving at his UCF lab each day for the trial.

“I have high hopes that this clinical trial may lead to finding a cure,” he said. “I am so thankful to be in a position to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Patients are expected to be on the treatment for one year. Results and findings of the double-blind study will then be released at the conclusion of the study.