Using Bugs as Drugs

Nov 28, 2017

Dietary habits are considered one of the main factors for maintaining the bacterial balance of a healthy gut.  If alterations in gut microbials are associated with development of inflammatory diseases, it is a possibility that administering gut bacteria can also be a promising treatment. This was the premise for a recent study, performed by Mayo clinic researchers, on the role of administered gut bacteria in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis (MS).  

The incidence of allergic and autoimmune diseases in developed countries has been on the rise in recent decades. There are many hypotheses on the cause of this phenomenon, most of them focusing on alterations in the gut microbiome, resulting from environmental factors, such as improved infection control and the westernized diet.

Dietary habits are considered one of the main factors for maintaining the bacterial balance of a healthy gut.  If alterations in gut microbials are associated with development of inflammatory diseases, it is a possibility that administering gut bacteria can also be a promising treatment.  This was the premise for a recent study, performed by Mayo clinic researchers, on the role of administered gut bacteria in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis (MS).  Similar to alopecia areata, multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease with a chronic, relapsing course and devastating effects on quality of life. There are several therapies for MS, most targeting the immune system, none of which currently can cure this disease.

The Mayo study published in the journal of Cell Reports involved administration of three different types of human gut derived bacteria to mice predisposed to develop MS inflammatory response. Interestingly, one of those bacteria types, Prevotella histicola, was shown to successfully regulate the immune response, suppressing the development of inflammation and disease.

Live bacteria have been traditionally used to aid digestion, and ward off infection and malabsorption in the gut. This study is an example of using live bacteria to modulate health outside of the gut, in particular the difficult to treat nervous system. In contrast to this study, higher levels of Prevotella bacteria in the gut have been previously associated with increased susceptibility for osteomyelitis, a bone disease. The implications of these findings for patients with alopecia areata remain to be determined.

Acknowledgment of the importance of gut health in chronic disease has slowly grown among consumers and physicians. A Peninsula Press article shows how Dr. Cynthia Li’s personal health journey profoundly changed the way she now practices medicine, using an approach known as “functional medicine” which seeks to find root causes and mechanisms for chronic disease.

For more information please refer to the following articles:

Mangalam A, Shahi SK, Luckey D, et al. Human Gut-Derived Commensal Bacteria Suppress CNS Inflammatory and Demyelinating Disease. Cell Rep. 2017 Aug 8;20(6):1269-1277. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2017.07.031.

Ren, C. (2017, Aug 26). Breaking the mold: A doctor’s illness journey changes her practice. Peninsula Press, Retrieved from peninsulapress.com.

Author: Dr. Natasha Atanaskova Mesinkovska, Chief Scientific Officer

HearUs Campaign Results