Researchers Create Microbial Treatment to Protect the Gut from Antibiotics
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(Photo: Pawel Czerwinski/Unsplash)
If you’ve ever undergone a surgical procedure (or even experienced something as “mild” as strep throat), you’ve probably been prescribed antibiotics. These handy little medications are vital to protecting the body from complete bacterial overrun, but like most things, they come with a slew of possible side effects: nausea, diarrhea, and fungal infections to name a few. When these complications arise, it can feel like the patient is replacing one health problem with another. 

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Scientists are working to reduce these complications with a “engineered live biotherapeutic” that protects the human gut from antibiotics. Researchers from MIT and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have modified a strain of Lactococcus lactis (a bacteria involved in cheese production) to disrupt the part of antibiotic medications that pose a risk to one’s gut health. Their treatment uses a genetically engineered strain of bacteria to avoid passing on this disruption to producer cells responsible for antibiotics’ effectiveness. 

(Photo: Christine Sandu/Unsplash)

According to a study published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, the biotherapeutic has proven successful so far. Upon administering both the microbial treatment and ampicillin to a group of mice, the researchers found that the treatment minimized gut disruption without negatively impacting the function of the ampicillin. The biotherapeutic also helped prevent the loss of colonization resistance against Clostridioides difficile, the bacteria that often causes diarrhea and other digestive troubles during a round of antibiotics. A control group of mice who did not receive the biotherapeutic meanwhile experienced a loss of microbial diversity. 

The researchers are now working on setting up a clinical study to prove the biotherapeutic’s efficacy in humans. While patients are often instructed to take probiotics or eat fermented foods while on antibiotics, such measures aren’t always enough to prevent stomach pain or yeast infections. The bacteria in yogurt and kimchi (as well as those in probiotics, despite their vast numbers) remain susceptible to antibiotics, which exist to wipe the body clean of any potential infection. If approved for human use, the new biotherapeutic may allow patients to enjoy the benefits of antibiotics without any of the usual miserable side effects.

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