Living Biotherapeutics Could Protect the Good Bacteria in Our Stomach from Antibiotics

Antibiotics are essential in fighting bacterial infections.

But, these drugs can also kill the good bacteria in our digestive system which can lead to an imbalance in our gut microbiome. This imbalance can result in inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, diabetes, heart problems, cancer, and central nervous system disorders.

Even our mental health can be impacted by the lack of equilibrium in our gut microbiome. We may suffer from anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses.

Photo: YouTube/New Scientist

Dysbiosis may also occur when our gut microbiome suffers an imbalance; this condition is associated with allergic disorders, type 1 diabetes mellitus, colorectal cancer, Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, and autism.

“Throughout your life, these gut microbes assemble into a highly diverse community that accomplishes important functions in your body,” said Andres Cubillos-Ruiz, Ph.D., a research scientist at IMES and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. “The problem comes when interventions such as medications or particular kinds of diets affect the composition of the microbiota and create an altered state, called dysbiosis. Some microbial groups disappear, and the metabolic activity of others increases. This unbalance can lead to various health issues.”

Hence, it is important for the gut microbiome to be protected not only from an unhealthy diet but from antibiotics as well which kill bacteria within the body indiscriminately.

Photo: YouTube/New Scientist

This was another mission that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology chose to fulfill. MIT engineers selected a bacterial strain that could help in shielding the gut microbiome from the effects of antibiotics, Lactococcus lactis.

Lactococcus lactis is commonly used in the production of cheese. MIT engineers modified these bacteria so they would release an enzyme that would break down beta-lactam antibiotics. Beta-lactam are the most frequently prescribed antibiotics in the United States.

The MIT team headed by Cubillos-Ruiz tested these engineered bacteria called “living biotherapeutics” on mice afterward. The living biotherapeutics were administered with antibiotics and these populated the intestinal tract. The enzymes that these engineered bacteria produced protected the gut microbiome by breaking down the antibiotics that reached the intestines. But the team’s findings also showed that the antibiotics in the bloodstream of mice had remained high.

Photo: YouTube/New Scientist

Moreover, when the purpose of the living biotherapeutics is accomplished, these engineered bacteria get out of the body through the digestive tract.

“If the antibiotic action is not needed in the gut, then you need to protect the microbiota,” explained Cubillos-Ruiz. “This is similar to when you get an X-ray, you wear a lead apron to protect the rest of your body from the ionizing radiation. No previous intervention could offer this level of protection. With our new technology, we can make antibiotics safer by preserving beneficial gut microbes and by reducing the chances of emergence of new antibiotic-resistant variants.”

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