Dr. Xia has spent two decades at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF), studying O-glycans, a form of sugar that the body produces and that comprises nearly 80 percent of a thick mucous layer inside the colon and the gastrointestinal tract. At OMRF, Professor Xia has discovered that certain sugars produced by the body play an important role in the development of colitis and, ultimately, colon cancer. The new finding could potentially lead to therapies for ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and colon cancer.
Xia and his lab genetically modified mice so that their bodies wouldn’t produce these sugars. The scientists found that the mucous layer vanished and the mice developed colitis, an inflammatory condition in the large intestine. In addition to colitis, these mice also developed a form of colon cancer (known as colitis-associated cancer) as they aged.
Xia’s lab is now working on the development of therapies to repair the injured mucous layer and repair the sugars to treat colitis and prevent tumor development.