Edible Antibodies Halt E. Coli in Pigs, Could Help End Overuse of Antibiotics

According to a publication at BioPortfolio, Belgian researchers are developing an orally-administered antibody medication for patients living with gastrointestinal disorders.

In most cases, antibodies are injected into the bloodstream for proliferation around the body. However, the highly caustic environment of the gut makes it impossible to treat gastrointestinal disorders with an injection – the stomach acids and digestive enzymes would simply break the antibodies down like everything else.

To combat this inherent limitation of injected antibodies, the Belgian scientists have to find a way to preserve antibodies delivered to someone’s gut. And, surprisingly, the best way to protect an antibody in the gut is to eat it.


How Can You Have Any Pudding, if You Don’t Eat Your Antibodies?

That’s right – high tech medicine you sprinkle over your food like cracked pepper. The new antibody was engineered specially to survive the hostile climate of the digestive tract, and scientists found a way to produce the antibodies using yeast.

Yes, the same yeast that helps your bread rise. At least, in theory (no word yet if Fleischmann’s is medical grade)! Because the antibodies are produced with yeast, making them is as close to food processing as pharmaceutical manufacturing. In fact, this simplified production method eliminated the need for the extensive purification processes usually required to isolate antibodies. The result was an easy-to-make antibody powder that could be directly ingested – not even a capsule is required.

Pigs Aren’t People

While the research is impressive, the orally-administered antibody is still just a proof-of-concept. To date, only pigs have been treated with the new antibodies.

Early findings suggested that piglets suffering from post-weaning diarrhea linked to E. coli infection were protected from the infection when their food was served with the antibody. This is a significant finding – since powerful antibiotics are the only other means for fighting E. coli infection in the massive global pig population. This over-reliance on antibiotics, especially in large-scale commercial farming, is part of what’s driving the ongoing concerns of bacterial evolution and “superbugs.”

An effective alternative to antibiotics for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders could lead to a drop in bacterial vaccine immunity. So, in a sense, even if the new antibody is never used in humans, it could still have a serious impact on our health. That’s why the Belgian researchers are planning to continue developing the antibody as a veterinary product.

To determine if the antibody would be as effective in people, extensive clinical trials would be required. However, some of the research team is confident their discovery could directly benefit humans. According to Nico Callewaert with the UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology, the leader of the yeast research, similarities between the human and pig gut have proven convenient for research. Because the pig gut is a passable analogue for a human stomach, the researchers have already started testing the technology for the prevention and treatment of human gastrointestinal disorders.

Although this animal research is encouraging, why is it still essential to run clinical trials on humans before treating them with an experimental medication? Do you think similar trials should be run to determine effectiveness in animals? Share your thoughts with Patient Worthy!

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