Zimmermann Research Lab

Dr. Ellen Zimmermann’s lab focuses on not only the molecular advances in IBD but also the social aspects of the disease.

Dr. Zimmermann’s research includes:

  • Drug discovery – resveratrol, curcumin, THC, bacterial peptides
  • Student adjustment to college – focus groups, transition readiness
  • Non-invasive testing for Crohn’s disease – use of MRI, Big data studies of IBD medication use.

Dr. Zimmermann’s lab has developed strong relationships with multiple departments to ensure a holistic approach to her research. Dr. Zimmermann has collaborated with UF’s Integrative medicine staff, nutrition staff, along with UF radiologists and pharmacists. Dr. Zimmermann’s lab regularly collaborates with psychologists from Mt. Sinai, as well as the Israeli Drug Discovery group to provide the most cutting-edge research to a global audience.

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Dr. Ellen Zimmermann, MD

Dr. Ellen Zimmermann has 20 years experience in academic medicine at the University of Michigan. At the University of Michigan, Dr. Zimmermann built a vibrant basic and translational research program, built a national reputation in IBD and grew a clinical and research interest in the needs of college-aged patients with IBD. Dr. Zimmermann moved to the University of Florida in 2013, where she continued her passion of treating and researching IBD. Dr. Zimmermann is the current Associate Dean for Faculty Development for the UF College of Medicine, along with being an active researcher and practicing physician.

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Basic Science Group

Chris Broxson, BS, BA

Christopher Broxson, B.A. chemistry; B.S. microbiology, is the laboratory manager for Dr. Ellen Zimmermann in the division of Gastroenterology at the University of Florida. Mr. Broxson began his research career as a junior chemist working in the material sciences developing high-strength ceramic fibers for use in heat-resistant composites. He later moved to biology and spent over a decade studying the synthesis and regulation of catecholamines in aging organisms. Finding himself drawn to the detailed analysis of biochemistry, he later moved to studying transcriptional regulation in non-canonical and secondary DNA structures such as telomeric G-quadruplexes.  After a brief stint studying renal biology, it was a natural progression to move to the mucosal immunology of the intestine when he joined the Zimmermann laboratory in 2013. Mr. Broxson has now been happily managing research laboratories as a senior biological scientist for over twenty years.

Synopsis of Current Research

Reducing or reversing intestinal fibrosis

Repeated rounds of inflammation associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can cause damage and scaring (fibrosis) to the walls of the intestine.  Over time, repeated build-up of fibrotic tissue can lead to a narrowing of the intestinal passageway known as fibrostenosis. Fibrostenosis is a serious complication, and it’s estimated that 50% of patients with Crohn’s disease (CD) and 10% of ulcerative colitis (UC) patients will develop fibrostenosis over their lifetime. Anti-fibrotic therapies are emerging in other fields, but little data are available to determine their potential usefulness in IBD. Our laboratory is studying established and novel anti-fibrotic agents with the goal of finding an effective treatment applicable to intestinal fibrostenosis.

Novel drug targeting

Our group is working with local and international collaborators to create a novel drug formulation which reduces unwanted absorption, and only becomes functional at sites of active inflammation.  Our approach is to utilize a family of enzymes know as phospholipases, which can break very specific (phospholipid) molecular bonds, and have been shown to be significantly elevated in the inflamed tissues of people with IBD.  By carefully designing drugs that are bound to phospholipids, a so called “pro-drug”, we may be able to reduce unwanted absorption and activity.  At sites of active inflammation, the abundant phospholipases could cleave the pro-drug, releasing the active portion, allowing highly specific targeting of diseased areas.

Medical marijuana

Our lab has begun controlled, reductionist studies to understand the basic biological effects of individual cannabis-derived chemicals as they relate to inflammation and fibrosis in the intestine.  Currently, our lab is using intestinally derived primary cell culture techniques to mimic healthy or diseased environments, and studying the mechanisms of cannabis exposure effects.

Clinical/Translational Research Team

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Angela Pham, MD

Angela Pham, MD, is board-certified in internal medicine and pediatrics, and subspecialty trained and certified in gastroenterology. She earned her medical degree from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine where she continued on for residency in internal medicine and pediatrics. Dr. Pham then came to UF for fellowship training in gastroenterology. She received additional training at Nestle Nutrition Institute as a clinical nutrition fellow and was a Visiting IBD Fellow through the CCFA at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

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Naueen Chaudhry, MD

Naueen Chaudhry, MD, is an assistant professor of medicine in the division of gastroenterology, hepatology & nutrition at the University of Florida department of medicine. She has published on a variety of topics, including the role of cross-sectional imaging in the management of IBD, the experience of college aged IBD populations, and the use of big data to study healthcare utilization and patient outcomes.

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Fatima Hussain, MD

Fatima Hussain, MD, is a Pediatric Gastroenterology Senior Fellow. Dr. Hussain’s work focuses on college age students with IBD. She works with Dr. Zimmermann and other team members on improving the college students’ adjustment in the presence of IBD via an online portal development, seminars, and small groups. She aims to take this work further to include high school students with IBD, measure their anticipated adaptation to college, and provide the support to improve their disease control during college years.

Thomas Potlach

Thomas Potlach

Tomas Potlach is an incoming first year medical student at the University of Florida College of Medicine, with an undergraduate major in Basic Biology and Medical Science. He currently serves as one of the Vice Presidents for the Crohn’s and Colitis Student Initiative (CCSI), a support group for students with IBD at the University of Florida. As part of the Medical Honors Program at UF, Tomas is completing his honors thesis with the Zimmermann Lab and is interested in researching health determinants and outcomes for vulnerable IBD populations including racial and ethnic minorities, rural communities, and pediatric patients transitioning to college and adult care. Tomas’ basic science and clinical interests include gut mucosal immunology, host/pathogen interactions, and nutritional and lifestyle interventions for IBD.

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Isabela Hernandez

Isabela Hernandez is a fourth year undergraduate Nutritional Sciences major at the University of Florida, who is planning on applying to medical school at the end of this school year. She is currently assisting on projects associated with designing a website tailored to college-aged patients with IBD, biologic use in Hispanic populations, and micronutrient deficiencies in patients with IBD. She is also one of the Vice Presidents for the Crohn’s and Colitis Student Initiative (CCSI), a support group for students with Inflammatory Bowel Disease at the University of Florida. Isabela’s interests are tailored around at-risk populations with IBD and their health outcomes as well as nutritional management of their disease.

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Karen Yung, BS, BA

Karen Yung graduated from the University of Florida with a B.S. in Food Science and a B.A. in French. She is the IBD Patient Navigator for the UF Department of Gastroenterology and is involved in a study regarding Parkinson’s Disease and inflammation in the GI tract, in addition to another project investigating the impact of gut bacteria on IBD.