Taming Inflammatory Bowel Disease

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Eat genetically modified yogurt cultures, and one day your body just might thank you.

Scientists at Northwestern University are seeking funds to expand their research on a new and improved probiotic they’ve developed that nearly eliminates colon inflammation, a disease afflicting an estimated 1.4 million in the U.S.

According to a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine took the bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus, frequently found in cheese and yogurt, and removed one of its genes. The resulting probiotic was then fed to mice with two types of colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease.

A genetically modified version of Lactobacillus acidophilus, a bacteria frequently found in yogurt, may help fight inflammatory bowel disease (photo: ©iStockphoto.com/letty17)A genetically modified version of Lactobacillus acidophilus, a bacteria frequently found in yogurt, may help fight inflammatory bowel disease (photo: ©iStockphoto.com/letty17)After almost two weeks, the probiotic had virtually eliminated inflammation and swelling in the gastrointestinal tract of the mice, according to the study results.

The probiotic worked by calming highly active immune cells that attack the intestine when it is inflamed. This was accomplished when the probiotic activated messenger immune cells—called dendritic cells—which increased the release of regulatory T-cells that rebalance intestinal inflammation.

Currently, Lactobacillus acidophilus in any of its forms has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat any ailment. Mansour Mohamadzadeh, associate professor of medicine at Feinberg and lead investigator of the study, said testing of the genetically modified bacteria has not been done with human subjects. He and fellow researchers are seeking funds to expand the research and conduct clinical trials.

However, he said, the early findings could eventually yield significant relief to more than a million Americans who currently suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases, which are chronically relapsing illnesses.

Worldwide, the prevalence rate of inflammatory bowel diseases is about 396 for every 100,000 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Today these patients face ongoing tissue inflammation with minimal aid from ineffective medications, according to the study. Side effects include diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping and gastrointestinal bleeding.

As envisioned, the new version of the probiotic would provide a safer and natural alternative that anyone could take in inexpensive pill form, researchers said.

“We say this is a technology that is much more efficient,” Mohamadzadeh said. “This is a bacteria derived from the human gut. It’s cheaper and has no side effects. It’s much cleaner and any human can tolerate it.”

Another benefit is its transient nature in the body.

“If you stop taking it, after one week, it is not identifiable,” Mohamadzadeh said. “It does not reside forever. It has the capability of tuning down inflammation for a while. Once that’s accomplished, you can take it out of the immune system, and your system will be rebounded, rejuvenated and ready to go.”

Safe removal of the probiotic from one’s body is important, as excessive reduction of inflammation can prove harmful, Mohamadzadeh said. Humans need inflammation to protect the body against infection. Bad bacteria is normally captured by intestinal immune cells, he noted.

The Northwestern researchers believe that the new probiotic may alleviate symptoms of other inflammation-triggered diseases like Crohn’s, which is incurable.

However, both researchers and dieticians agree much more research is needed before the new form of the probiotic hits store shelves.

“Not a lot is known about the long-term potential risks of probiotics,” said Adam Reppert, a clinical dietitian at the North Side-based Swedish Covenant Hospital. “There is a lot of research supporting the use of certain probiotics to reduce the duration of intestinal infections, but we’re still very early in the research stage of this.”

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