According to the World Health Organization, approximately 1billion people do not have access to clean water and an estimated 1.5 million children die every year from diarrheal diseases. This figure could be significantly reduced if trials on a new probiotic product developed at the University of Guelph continue to be positive.
Scientists at the University have discovered a new group of bioactive compounds produced by probiotic bacteria that, according to their advanced studies, may prevent infection, by food or water borne pathogens such as those that caused the deadly Enterohemorrhagic (EHEC) outbreak in Europe last month.
When many enteric pathogens such as E. coli O157 or C.difficile are ingested, they must attach to the host's intestinal wall in order to successfully colonize the gut and produce their toxins. To do this, the bacteria rely on chemical signals to switch on genes required for their attachment. The University researchers have found that molecules produced by certain probiotic bacteria can interfere with this signaling mechanism thereby preventing the pathogen from attaching to the host's intestine and stopping the infection cycle before it begins.
Initial studies have shown that mice fed the probiotic molecules and then infected by E. coli O157, had declining levels of E. coli present in their intestines over a 7-day period. As a result, these mice showed significantly reduced levels of infection compared to those untreated with the probiotic product. In addition, using an artificial system that mimics the human intestine, the researchers have shown that similar effects may be possible in humans and that these effects may not be limited to just these two pathogens. Existing probiotics on the market today typically claim to only protect against one pathogen at a time. The University of Guelph's research has shown further results that these new, probiotic molecules may not only effect the virulence of E. coli and C. difficile, but also Salmonella, and Campylobacter. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, these bacteria combined account for 22% of North American cases and 36% of deaths due to food borne illness annually.
"We are excited not only about the commercial applications of this technology as a broad spectrum treatment for several enteric diseases, but also about the research implications of this discovery," said Dr. Mansel Griffiths, Lead Researcher and Director of the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety at the University of Guelph. "As the number of antibiotic resistant bacteria increases, here we have a natural product with a unique mode of action that will allow us to target infection in new ways."
MicroSintesis Inc. a research company focused on the development of microbial technologies, has licensed the patent from the University of Guelph. The Company is looking at opportunities in the human health market, where it expects to develop a number of products for infants and toddlers. In addition, it plans to develop a product for the animal health market that could help to prevent food borne infection at the animal source.
President of MicroSintesis, Hannah McIver, explains, "Up to 10% of patients suffering from the EHEC will develop the life threatening disease, hemolytic uremic syndrome. Most of these will be young children or the elderly. For the majority of us, food borne infections are a relatively minor inconvenience. For many, especially the young and the old, they can be deadly. This unique product has the potential to change the way we feel about eating certain foods, about how and where we travel to, and in many cases save lives."
30 September 2011