Current Project

Project 2023

The problem
4.9 million people worldwide suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) [1]. The disease causes patients to have chronic inflammation in the gut, leading to symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloody stools and fatigue. The current treatments for the disease are systemic, meaning they affect the whole body, but this causes many unnecessary side effects [2]. This is why we want to design better treatment options for patients suffering from IBD.

We make a modular platform of inexpensive and safe engineered probiotics. This can be used as treatment of IBD, but also for many other types of bowel diseases. Eventually, our bacteria can easily be taken by patients in the form of a pill.

Our solution
Probiotics are made up of live micro-organisms that help keep your body healthy and working well. They have gained popularity over the years and many studies show their beneficial health effects [3]. You must have seen advertisements telling you how good they are for your gut health. Research is going into engineering gut bacteria to treat diseases. However, some negative effects have been identified. Studies have shown that probiotics can alter the intestinal flora in the long-term and cause lower levels of anti-inflammatory and anti-tumorgenic substances [4]. These are naturally produced in the bowel and have beneficial health effects in the gut. So even though probiotics can help IBD patients to alleviate their symptoms in the short term, their long-term use could worsen IBD-related symptoms.

We solve this issue and treat IBD at the same time with our solution. We make sure that the bacteria cannot divide anymore by forming a hydrogel inside the cell. When the hydrogel is formed, the bacterial cel remains functional at body temperature. That way, the bacteria can produce anti-inflammatory drugs, but they are much less likely to alter the bacteria in the gut. However, they will still divide at room temperature so they can also be cultured easily outside the body making our solution cheap and simple. Eventually, we can use this system to create a modular platform to cure a variety of intestinal diseases in a non-invasive way. The treatment is also local instead of systemic, which results that the patient will experience fewer side effects.

We form the hydrogel via the expression of a polymer made up out of amino acids that have cross-linkers attached at their end. A network between the long chains will form when we increase the temperature. The formation of the proteins and the gel all happens inside the bacteria themselves. This makes the bacterial cell more robust and unable to divide. The bacteria will then reach your gut alive, containing the hydrogel, where the other plasmid will produce IL-10 to locally treat IBD. IL-10 is an immunoregulatory cytokine that has potential as an anti-inflammatory biological therapy for IBD [5].

  1. R. Wang, Z. Li, S. Liu, and D. Zhang, “Global, regional and national burden of inflammatory bowel disease in 204 countries and territories from 1990 to 2019: a systematic analysis based on the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019,” BMJ Open, vol. 13, no. 3, p. e065186, Mar. 2023, doi: 10.1136/BMJOPEN-2022-065186.
  2. H. Hadji and K. Bouchemal, “Advances in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease: Focus on polysaccharide nanoparticulate drug delivery systems,” Adv. Drug Deliv. Rev., vol. 181, p. 114101, 2022, doi: 10.1016/j.addr.2021.114101.
  3. Kechagia, M., Basoulis, D., Konstantopoulou, S., Dimitriadi, D., Gyftopoulou, K., Skarmoutsou, N., & Fakiri, E. M. (2013). Health Benefits of Probiotics: A Review.
  4. Tan, J., McKenzie, C. R. M., Potamitis, M., Thorburn, A. N., Mackay, C. R., & Macia, L. (2014). The Role of Short-Chain Fatty Acids in Health and Disease.
  5. H. Braat, M. P. Peppelenbosch, and D. W. Hommes, “Interleukin-10-based therapy for inflammatory bowel disease,”, vol. 3, no. 5, pp. 725–731, Aug. 2005.