What issue does this study address?

Children with Hirschsprung’s disease have no normal nerve cells in the lower end of their bowel. This means their colons cannot move stool through properly, and can cause babies to die if left untreated. This is a rare condition, with around 170 babies born with Hirschsprung’s every year.

Currently the part of bowel that doesn’t have normal nerves is removed with an operation, leaving these children to grow up with a stoma. There is an urgent need for better treatment options.

What are the aims of this study?

The researchers have found that children with Hirschsprung’s disease have immature nerve cells (known as stem cells) throughout their bowel, even in the lower end where the nerves haven’t grown normally. They have grown these stem cells in the laboratory to form balls of nerve cells (neurospheres). This funding will be used to find out whether these neurospheres grow into the nerves that are needed for the bowel to work normally, and if there are drugs that can help this happen, potentially providing a new treatment option for children with Hirschsprung’s in the future.

The research team

The supervisor of this PhD project is Dr Rachel Harwood, a Paediatric Surgeon with a PhD in regenerative medicine who works at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.


This project is part of the “Hard to Fund” Fund portfolio.