Researchers create microbial treatment to protect gut from antibiotics

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If you’ve ever had surgery (or even experienced something as “mild” as strep throat), chances are you’ve been prescribed antibiotics. These handy little drugs are vital in protecting the body from a full-blown bacterial overload, but like most things, they come with a slew of potential side effects: nausea, diarrhea, and yeast infections, to name a few. When these complications arise, it can feel like the patient is replacing one health problem with another.

Scientists are working to reduce these complications with an “engineered living biotherapeutic” that protects the human gut from antibiotics. Researchers from MIT and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University modified a strain of Lactococcus lactis (a bacterium involved in cheese making) to interfere with the part of antibiotic drugs that poses a risk to gut health. Their treatment uses a genetically engineered strain of bacteria to avoid passing this disorder on to the producer cells responsible for making antibiotics effective.

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according to a to learn published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, the biotherapeutic has proven itself so far. When given both the microbial treatment and ampicillin to a group of mice, the researchers found that the treatment minimized gut disruption without negative impact on the function of the ampicillin. The biotherapeutic also helped prevent the loss of colonization resistance Clostridioides difficile, the bacterium that often causes diarrhea and other digestive problems during a round of antibiotics. Meanwhile, a control group of mice that did not receive the biotherapeutic experienced a loss of microbial diversity.

The researchers are now working to set up a clinical trial to demonstrate the effectiveness of the biotherapeutic in humans. While patients are often instructed to take probiotics or eat fermented foods while taking antibiotics, such measures are not always enough to prevent stomach pain or yeast infections. The bacteria in yogurt and kimchi (as well as those in probiotics, despite their large numbers) remain susceptible to antibiotics, which are there to rid the body of potential infections. If approved for human use, the new biotherapeutic could allow patients to enjoy the benefits of antibiotics without the usual woeful side effects.

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