With synthetic biotics, it is possible that in future the treatment of diseases will be by swallowing a pill composed of genetically engineered E-coli. The trial pills are designed by a startup company called Synlogic, Cambridge, which contains bacteria designed to treat a rare metabolic disease.
We are living in a microbial world, where the number of bacteria within us, is 10 times greater than the 10 million cells that make up our body. It’s important to understand that good and bad bacteria in our gut can keep us healthy or can contribute to our illness. Studies from past have shown that the bacteria in our gut possess a powerful influence on our immune and endocrine systems, brain health, mood and cognitive function, and other key biological processes. Scientists are working to create a new class of medications called “synthetic biotics,” where bacteria’s are Reprogrammed.
Hence, studying the flora in your gut and leveraging the power of the microbiome to treat diseases is next to an exciting journey in the medical frontier.
In a recent study, biologists and medical engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered that just by reprogramming gut bacteria to act as “living therapeutics” can correct the metabolic dysfunctions underlying certain ailments.
“It’s become really clear that the bacteria living in us and on us affect our bodies in a variety of different ways — in ways that we never imagined.The old idea that people are just people and that everything that happens in our bodies is dictated by human cells and DNA is probably not the complete picture.”
Dr Timothy Lu, a biological engineer at MIT
Here the DNA of bacteria is Engineered to perform important metabolic functions which can reduce inflammation on a highly localized level. The project is carried out at the MIT offshoot bio-pharmaceutical lab Synlogic, which is co-founded by Dr Timothy Lu.
These biotics prepared can be taken in liquid or capsule form, and regular intake can help treat serious diseases and even rare genetic disorders.
Research is all set to begin on two sets of drugs at clinical trials level—one is urea cycle disorder (UCD—an enzyme deficiency that causes ammonia buildup in the blood) and the other for phenylketonuria (PKU—where a metabolic enzyme mutation causes excessive phenylalanine). For both diseases, the drugs are engineered to flush toxic metabolites from the body.
The scientists built a “genetic circuits” made of synthetic DNA or RNA that carry instructions for certain bacteria, instructing them to seek out and cure infections. The researchers are tweaking the genetic codes within the bacteria in order to program them like a computer.
Hence, when the bacteria is programmed it will be able to detect inflammation in the gut and create anti-inflammatory molecules on the spot, as well as producing molecules to boost immune system function.
Till now, the research team has focused on programming E. coli Nissle, a strain of bacteria found in the gut that’s widely used as a probiotic. According to researcher treatment of diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis with synthetic biotics is potentially more precise and safe than the commonly used anti-inflammatory treatments.
“The microbiome is such an integral part of us that future drugs will need to work with and even through the microbiome.”
-Dr. Rodney Dietert, immunotoxicologist at Cornell University
The research is not just restricted to rare genetic disorders but also focused for a range of ailments with metabolic components, including autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease and central nervous system disorders.
Designer bacteria’s are in a trend where its genes are genetically modified to perform a special function which it could not do previously. Synlogic is a company which announced a new pill that contains these modified organisms that would cope up with a rare metabolic disease that affects the stomach. According to the inventor, these pills will be able to perform innovative and fascinating functions that our body cannot normally do and this development could become an alternative to pills and injections.
Its like Swallowing couple of bacteria in the form of pills, to me it looks little weird concept but if it could lead to better, more targeted, ways of treating diseases then it would be impacting people’s health in a positive way. But in what manners it will be regulated is still a question mark. What is your view in this kind of medication, do share in the comment section below.
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2. MIT news