Research Roundup: Gut Bacteria to Prevent and Reverse Food Allergies and More

Researcher pipetting into test tube

Every week there are numerous scientific studies published. Here’s a look at some of the more interesting ones.

Using Gut Bacteria to Prevent and Reverse Food Allergies

The microbiome is the trillions of bacteria, fungi and viruses that inhabit our bodies. Recently, significant advances have been made in understanding the microbiome’s role in numerous diseases, not just those of the gastrointestinal tract. New research has identified a species of bacteria in the guts of infants that appears to protect against food allergies. The group collected fecal samples every four to six months from 56 infants who developed food allergies. They compared differences in their microbiota to 98 babies who didn’t develop food allergies. They then transplanted the microbiota samples from both groups into mice, and the mice who received the samples from the allergic babies also developed the same food allergies.

“This represents a sea change in our approach to therapeutics for food allergies,” stated co-senior author Lynn Bry, director of the Massachusetts Host-Microbiome Center at the Brigham and Women's Hospital. “We’ve identified the microbes that are associated with protection and ones that are associated with food allergies in patients. If we administer defined consortia representing the protective microbes as a therapeutic, not only can we prevent food allergies from happening, but we can reverse existing food allergies in preclinical models. With these microbes, we are resetting the immune system.”

In addition, using computational models, they identified the different microbes from both sets of children to identify which microbes offered protection to food allergies. They found that five or six species of bacteria within the Clostridiales or the Bacteriodetes families suppressed food allergies in the mouse model, protecting them from and keeping the mice resistant to egg allergy.

All the authors of the study, including Georg Gerber, of Brigham, and Talal Chatila, of Boston Children’s Hospital, are founders and have equity in ConsortiaTX, a biotech company working to develop a live human biotherapeutic based on their research. They are preparing a Phase Ib clinical trial in pediatric food allergy and hoping to expand into additional allergic diseases.

• Coffee to Fight Obesity

It sounds too good to be true for millions of people, but researchers have found that drinking a cup of coffee can stimulate so-called “brown fat,” which is one of two types of fat found in humans and other mammals. Brown fat, or brown adipose tissue (BAT), acts to generate body heat by burning calories. White fat stores excess calories (and don’t we all know it?). Although still undetermined why, possibly caffeine, coffee appears to stimulate brown fat.

• Discovery of a New Pathway in the Brain that Prevents Buildup of Alzheimer’s Protein

Researchers have identified a pathway in the brain, at least in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s, that helps regulate inflammation. The pathway is called LC3-associated endocytosis (LANDO) and is found in specialized brain immune cells called microglial cells. Increasingly, research is suggesting that overactive or malfunctioning microglial cells and their response to beta-amyloid proteins are a key aspect of the brain damage associated with Alzheimer’s. LANDO, when it is functioning properly, appears to protect against deposits of beta-amyloid in the mice and guards against toxic neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration.

Click to sign up for newsletters

• Extra Glucose Could Benefit ALS Patients

One aspect of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative disease, is metabolic changes that often cause rapid weight loss. Essentially, patients with ALS appear to use more energy while resting while the body often struggles to effectively use existing glucose. The research found that when ALS-affected neurons are provided more glucose, they are better able to produce energy, which allows the cells to survive longer and function better.

• How Does Lung Cancer Spread?

New research has found that lung cancer cells actually use antioxidants to spread throughout the body. The cancer cells activate a protein, BACH1, and increase the uptake and use of glucose. Cancer cells obtain antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C or E, from the diet or synthesize them themselves. But in about one in three cases of lung cancer, the tumor cells have mutations linked to the NRF2 and KEAP1 genes, which lets them produce their own antioxidants. The researchers from the Karolinska Institutet caution that this is not related to glucose in the blood or diet, but rather is the cancer cells’ ability to use glucose that is the basis of accelerating metastasis.

• Why MicroRNAs Are Expressed as Beads-On-A-String

MicroRNAs are small nucleic acid molecules that control gene expression. In certain diseases, such as cancer, they are also profoundly defective. They are often encoded in genomes and expressed in groupings called beads-on-a-string or polycistrons, although until now why that was the case was unknown. Researchers studying the oncogenic microRNA polycistron miR-17-92, which is often over-expressed in cancers, identified several new previously undiscovered steps in microRNA biogenesis which may have practical implications in developing therapies for certain types of cancer.

Thomas Duchaine, professor at McGill University, stated, “Besides forcing a reinterpretation of the function of the miR-17-92 proto-oncogene, it will prompt new potential therapeutic strategies.”

Back to news