The Institute of Food Research have used a genetically engineered bacterium to effectively deliver a therapy for the treatment of irritable bowel disease.
Lead author professor Simon Carding, from the Institute and East Anglia University, and his team of researchers found that the bacterium Bacteroides ovatus activated a protein when exposed to the sugar xylan. The protein, human growth factor KGF-2, was delivered by the bacterium directly to the damaged cells in the lining of the gut. According to the researchers, the treatment “had a significant therapeutic affect,” reducing rectal bleeding, accelerating the healing of the gut lining, and reducing inflammation. The treatment also prevented “the onset of disease.”
“This is the first time that anyone has been able to control a therapeutic protein in a living system using something that can be eaten,” said Carding. “The beneficial bugs could be activated when they are needed.”
The researchers explained that this treatment was an improvement on previous IBD treatment methods, in that the bacterium’s delivery of the protein into the gut did not cause “unwanted side effects.” In addition, unlike other treatments for IBD, “it is envisaged that patients will be able to control the medication themselves by ingesting xylan, perhaps in the form of a drink,” the researchers said.
According to Carding, his initial ideas for the promise of this treatment were exceeded.
“Initially I envisage this being an adjunct therapy to patients’ existing medicine, but eventually it could be the sole therapy,” said Carding. “Once our bugs are in the colon they could be activated when needed so we aim to use our bugs to prevent disease or relapse in IBD.”