Could Fungus be Causing Inflammatory Bowel Disease? New Research Provides Shocking Answers

All manner of microbes make their home in our intestines. This delicately balanced system is known as the microbiome. A recent study shows that certain cells in the intestines regulate the amount of fungi in the microbiome. Big conclusions about inflammatory bowel disease could come from this. Keep reading to learn more, or follow the original story here.

New research published on January 11 in the journal Science reveals an illuminating correlation between fungi, immunity, and inflammation of the intestines. Based on these observations, the research also recommends new methods for treating inflammatory bowel disease.

The study comes from scientists at Weill Cornell Medicine like Dr. Iliyan Iliev. Dr. Iliev explains that discovering how fungi might be a key player in inflammatory bowel disease only raised more questions.

One of the biggest questions involved how to identify patients that would benefit from anti-fungal treatments.

There didn’t seem to be a way to distinguish between regular cases of inflammatory bowel disease, and those cause by fungi but the new research proposed a method.

Many researchers studying the microbiome focus on bacteria.

Dr. Iliev’s research specifically investigates gut fungi. Dr. Ilieve describes fungal-DNA as difficult to reach and assess using the standard practices of molecular biology. The development of new technologies and tools has aided his research in big way. Building off of these tools, Dr. Iliev and his team created visualizations of the fungal-host interactions occurring in the gut and published studies to demonstrate the fungal populations living in the gut. A 2012 study by the team began to examine the interplay between fungi and inflammatory bowel disease.

This year, the team’s research uncovered the control method for the gut fungi.

The immune system has been known to play some role in fungal regulation. The exact players have, however, been unclear. Dr. Ilieve and his team uncovered a specific type of white blood cell as the answer. Dr. Irina Leonardi, lead author of the study, remarks that the way these cells are specifically equipped to deal with fungi is a real surprise.

The white blood cell Dr. Leonardi describes is known as a phagocyte.

Phagocytes are special in their ability to eat other cells.

They play a pivotal role in the immune system. Many were already identified in the gut, and deal with bacteria, and food and plant related cells. The newly identified white blood cell has been found to be equally important in regulating the amount and variety of gut fungi.

In their study, researchers introduced colitis to a mouse population. They then added fungi to the equation to see if it would affect mice with and without the target phagocyte differently. The results show that mice lacking the fungus eating phagocyte were much more vulnerable to intestinal disease than mice with the phagocyte. The introduction of antifungal drugs significantly improved the condition of mice lacking the phagocyte. Researchers concluded fungi had played a large role in the development of disease.

The team from Weill Cornell then examined over 500 patients with Crohn’s disease. They found that patients suffering from a mutation in the specialized fungi phagocyte had a reduced immune response to fungi similar to the mice in their study.

Researchers also identified the observed the connection between fungi, phagocytes, and the production of ASCA. ASCA is a commonly used marker in identifying chronic diseases like Crohn’s disease. Dr. Iliev explained that patients who have a mutation connected to the antifungal phagocyte may be misdiagnosed as they test negatively for ASCA. This observation may open new windows for treatment, showing that some suffers of inflammatory bowel disease could benefit from antifungal therapies.


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