There will soon be no more bitter pills to swallow, thanks to new research by University of Leeds scientists (UK): a spoonful of sugar will be all we need for our bodies to make their own medicine.
Professor Simon Carding of Leeds' Faculty of Biological Sciences has adapted a bacteria in our own bodies to make it produce a treatment for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Bacteria and viruses have been used before to deliver drugs in this way, but Professor Carding has solved the major problem with this kind of treatment: he uses a sugar to 'switch' the bacteria on and off. By eating the sugar, a patient will set the medicine to work and then can end the treatment simply by stopping consumption of the sugar.
"Current bacteria and virus delivery systems produce their drugs non-stop, but for many treatments there is a narrow concentration range at which drugs are beneficial," said Professor Carding. "Outside of this, the treatment can be counterproductive and make the condition worse. It's vitally important to be able to control when and how much of the drug is administered and we believe our discovery will provide that control."
Professor Carding has modified one of the trillions of bacteria in the human gut so that it will produce human growth factors which help repair the layer of cells lining the colon, so reducing inflammation caused by IBD. But he's also adapted the bacteria so it only activates in the presence of a plant sugar called xylan that is found in tree bark. Xylan is naturally present in food in low concentrations, so by taking it in higher quantities, a patient will be able to produce their own medicine as and when they need it.
"The human gut has a huge number of bacteria, and this treatment simply adapts what's there naturally to treat the disease," said Professor Carding. "We're already looking at using the same technique for colorectal cancer, as we believe we could modify the bacteria to produce factors that will reduce tumour growth. Treatment of diseases elsewhere in the body might also be possible as most things present in the gut can get taken into the blood stream."
The discovery has been patented - and is being developed further with support from the University's technology transfer partner, Techtran Group Ltd - part of the IP Group plc - and the Medical Research Council. The technique has been shown to work in vitro, but the researchers will be testing the treatment over the next twelve months in preparation for clinical trials.