Gut bacteria could play a significant role in drug treatment

Trillions of bugs known as gut microbes live symbiotically in the human gut. They play a key role in many of the processes that take place inside the body. Different people have different types of gut microbes living inside them and abnormalities in some types have recently been linked to diseases such as diabetes and obesity.

Professor Jeremy Nicholson from the Department of Biomolecular Medicine at Imperial College London suggests that targeting gut microbes with new drug therapies, rather than concentrating on the mechanisms in the human body, could provide an array of uncharted possibilities for fighting disease, although much research is still needed to untangle the precise role played by each different type of bug.

Professor Nicholson believes that it should be easier to create drugs that can change the bugs than it is to re-engineer human cells and signalling pathways inside the body. Also, if they are not interfering with the body's pathways, these drugs should have less toxic side-effects. Research has already shown that the makeup of an individual's gut microbes is affected by their diet and other environmental factors – and that it is possible to alter the make-up of bugs in a mouse's gut, affecting their metabolism, using

Professor Nicholson suggests that such therapies could mean a more holistic approach to medicine, looking not just at pharmaceutical treatments but also at lifestyle and nutrition.

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First Published in August 2008

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