Molecules from Probiotic-Rich Foods May Combat “Cytokine Storm” in COVID-19


A recent study from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) found that isolated molecules from probiotic-rich dairy products could have potential as novel drug candidates for fighting against pathogenic bacteria and treating inflammatory diseases, including the cytokine storm related to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Findings from the study were published in the peer-reviewed publication Microbiome.

Probiotics are considered beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods like kefir and yogurt. Previous research suggests that probiotics may also support the immune system, improve the diversity and balance of microbial populations in the gut and possibly protect humans from harmful bacterial infections.

A study from Monash University in Melbourne identified two molecules in the gut microbiome, which houses probiotic bacteria, that may play a role in treating severe COVID-19 and  asthma attacks.

In this recent study, researchers from BGU isolated molecules from a predominant yeast in probiotic-rich kefir. These molecules significantly reduced virulence of the bacteria that causes cholera.

According to the investigators, the anti-bacterial effect of the kefir-secreted molecules centered on their ability to disrupt bacterial cell communication and interfered in assembly of bacterial aggregates. They added that the achievement of blocking cell communication with these molecules among bacterial cells represents a promising and potentially effective approach to combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

A follow-up study found that the isolated molecules also exhibited anti-inflammatory properties when tested in several different pathological conditions and diseases. In one case, the molecules accelerated the healing of mice that were undergoing a “cytokine storm,” a potentially lethal immune response involved in COVID-19 and another conditions. The molecules isolated from the probiotic yogurt eliminated the cytokine storm and also improved immune system function. The investigators believe that these isolated molecules could thus be used as novel drug candidates for inflammatory conditions.

Professor Raz Jelinek, a corresponding study author, said in a statement that the findings from this study are notable, given that they are the first to demonstrate that molecules secreted in probiotic dairy products can reduce human pathogenic bacteria virulence.

"In fact, our research illuminates for the first time a mechanism by which milk fermented probiotics can protect against pathogenic infections and aid the immune system,” Jelinek said. “Following promising results in animal models, we look forward to administering these drug candidates to humans, for example to patients who are experiencing a cytokine storm due to COVID-19 infection, or people suffering from acute inflammatory bowel pathologies, such as Crohn's disease."

"In a reality where antibiotic-resistant bacteria are becoming an imminent threat, the novel molecules discovered by BGU scientists pave a completely new path for fighting bacterial infections by disrupting cell-cell communications in pathogenic bacteria,” added Josh Peleg, chief executive officer of BGN Technologies. “Moreover, the dramatic anti-inflammatory activities of the molecules may open new avenues for therapeutics and scientifically proven probiotic food products."

BGN Technologies is a technology transfer company of BGU and works to develop and deliver technological advancements from the lab to the market. Since its inception, BGN established more than 100 biotech, hi-tech and cleantech startups.

"Years of breakthrough research have now reached a validation point that led to the establishment of a biopharma company for the further development and clinical evaluation of this exciting new technology that can potentially revolutionize the treatment of bacterial infections as well as inflammatory conditions," Peleg said.

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