Diabetes could be cured by modifying bacteria from healthy people’s poo, according to new research.
Experiments found that transplanting engineered E.coli bacteria from stool samples stopped the progression of the disease in mice.
The technique could end the need for painful insulin injections and has the potential to treat a range of gut conditions, ranging from obesity to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
‘All I can say to the non-native bacteria is good luck. The gut microbiome is very dynamic and is constantly changing, making things even harder for the non-native bacteria,’ said Professor Amir Zarrinpar, senior author of the study.
Scientists have long tried to introduce genetically engineered bacteria into the gut to treat diseases.
In the past, these attempts have focused on engineering common lab strains of E. coli, which cannot compete with the native gut bacteria that are well adapted to their host.
‘It is challenging for bacteria that have never lived inside of a mammal before to now go into the gut microbiome jungle with all of these hostile conditions that are geared towards preventing bacterial invaders from taking hold,’ said Prof Zarrinpar.
The US team collected E. coli from both human and mice gut microbiomes – and added a protein called BSH (bile salt hydrolase). This made them more robust and extended survival in the hostile gut environment long enough to treat disease.
‘Bacteria in our body are adapted to each one of us specifically: the kind of foods we eat, the common stresses our body experiences or induces, and our genetic background,’ explained Prof Zarrinpar.
This constantly fluctuating environment is their normal which is a big advantage for native bacteria, making them ideal candidates for engineering.
The scientists engineered these bacteria to become factories that can live in our microbiome and potentially produce medicines.
‘We know E. coli can pick up pathogenic genes and cause disease, and now we are just realising if we put a beneficial gene in, it can help us to treat chronic diseases, maybe even cure some of them,’
The researchers first collected stool samples from the host and extracted E. coli for further modifications.
After a single treatment in mice, the E. coli were found throughout the entire gut, with activity retained for the entire lifetime of the host.
The study published in in the journal Cell showed that it was able to positively influence diabetes progression in the lab rodents.
It is a significant improvement over similar treatments with non-native laboratory strains of engineered bacteria, where more than one treatment is often required.
In addition to successfully influencing diabetes in mice, the group was also able to make a similar modification to E. coli extracted from human gut.
The group is planning on using this technology to find ways to treat more diseases.
‘This technology is something that can potentially open up the application of the microbiome therapy to influence so many different chronic and genetic diseases,’