Yeast can be used in baking, brewing, and fermenting. But could it also be used to treat patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)? According to Medical XPress, doctors believe so. In recent years, there has been an increased focus, within the medical realm, on the importance of gut health. In fact, an unhealthy gut, or unhealthy microbes in the gut, are tied to a number of health conditions, including IBD. Thus, researchers questioned whether yeast probiotics could be engineered to reduce inflammation and treat IBD. By creating a “designer” engineered yeast probiotic, researchers found a potential avenue for achieving these goals. Check out the full findings published in Nature Medicine.
To start, it’s first important to understand exactly what probiotics are. According to HealthLine, probiotics are living microorganisms (usually bacteria or yeasts):
that, when ingested, provide a health benefit [such as weight loss, improved digestion, healthier skin, and enhanced immune function]. They’re often taken as supplements that are supposed to help colonize your gut with good microorganisms [and correct the balance of gut flora].
Currently, a large number of marketable probiotics focus on balancing gut flora and improving gut health. However, additional benefits are needed for probiotics to treat conditions such as IBD. In addition to reducing inflammation and balancing gut flora, the probiotics would also need to reverse damage within the digestive tract.
Y Bots (Yeast Robots)
To begin, researchers used Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a type of yeast which is often used to bake, brew beer, or prepare wine. Next, researchers engineered the yeast using CRISPR, a burgeoning genome editing technology. Through this engineering, researchers provided the yeast with specific genetic elements which secreted an enzyme when faced with inflammation. In turn, this enzyme reduces inflammation. Additionally, the therapy is super targeted and allows for localized treatment throughout the digestive tract.
Of course, the Y bots (as the researchers call them) cannot yet be tested in humans. So, to evaluate the efficacy of the probiotics, researchers evaluated Y bots on mice models of IBD. After administering treatment to the mice, researchers observed:
- A more balanced gut microbiome
- Lower levels of fibrosis (scarring)
- Reduced inflammation throughout the digestive tract
After performing additional studies to evaluate safety, the researchers hope to test the therapy on human patients in the future.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Altogether, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term for a group of conditions characterized by digestive tract inflammation. The two most common IBD subtypes are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC). While doctors are not sure of the exact cause, many believe IBD results from some immune system malfunction. For example, if the immune system attempts to attack certain bacteria or foreign invaders, it might mistakenly attack the digestive tract as well. Risk factors include smoking cigarettes, stress, age (younger than 30), being Caucasian or of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, or living in a northern climate or industrialized country.
Symptoms and severity vary. However, many patients with IBD experience symptomatic periods punctuated by periods of remission. During symptomatic periods, patients may experience:
- Appetite loss
- Bloody stool
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Unintended weight loss
- Additional complications, including:
- Joint, skin, and eye inflammation
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis
- Blood clots
- Colon cancer