Rheumatoid arthritis: Bacteria designed to infuse drugs

A new study demonstrates how a genetically engineered probiotic can produce an experimental anti-inflammatory molecule and effectively treat rheumatoid arthritis in mice. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine have proposed this methodology for administering drugs while avoiding current injection treatments. Arthritis is a disease that affects a large number of individuals worldwide and causes disorders that can lead patients to have difficulty performing daily activities.

In the figure of the hands of a patient afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis, the typical fingers formed by the disease are visible.

The initial idea of ​​the study

The initial idea of ​​the research team is that patients do not like having to have injections for the treatment of arthritis. This is due to both a convenience factor and the risk of infection at the injection site. In the current study, the possibility of using the bacterium was explored Lactobacillus reuteri as a means of oral drug delivery to treat rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers looked at bacteria L. reuteripreviously defined as safe in humans, because they are not known to colonize the intestine, therefore the effects are only transient; in fact, they are removed when the intestine regularly renews its inner surface layer.

3D reconstruction of bacteria Lactobacillus considered in this study.

Rheumatoid arthritis: the study in detail

The researchers modified the bacteria to secrete the ShK-235 peptide, an analogue of a peptide extracted from the Caribbean sea anemone. In recent years, this molecule has been studied for its anti-inflammatory properties. In particular, it has been found that it blocks the activation of some immune cells implicated in diseases such as: psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritisinflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis. In its therapeutic form the drug is called Dalazatide. Ongoing clinical trials are demonstrating that the treatment is safe and effective for treating psoriasis and lupus in humans. The Dalazatide however it has yet to be licensed for clinical use.

Caribbean sea anemone
In the figure a Caribbean sea anemone.

Results of tests performed

In this study, the researchers tested the engineered bacteria on animal models presenting with rheumatoid arthritis. At this stage it was noted that the Dalazatide it reduced signs of joint disease and inflammation in mice. The experiments also revealed that the probiotic successfully released consistent and therapeutic levels of ShK-235 into the bloodstream of the animals. Probiotic pills could become an effective method of using some drugs that previously could only be given by intravenous injection or infusion.

laboratory mouse rat
Shown is a laboratory mouse ready for testing.

Have bacteria been used for this function in the past?

It is not the first time that this futuristic concept has been considered for this type of use. In fact, last year researchers unveiled a new strain of the human probiotic E. coli Nissle which was modified to synthesize a drug for Parkinson’s disease called L-DOPA. Another earlier study engineered the same bacteria to remove excess ammonia in a human body.

Conclusions and future prospects

Of course, it is too early to see this type of therapeutic treatment on the market. More research is needed to bring this new system into the clinic, but the researchers predict it could make treatment easier for patients in the future. However, the data obtained from analyzes on mice are very positive. After all, it is known that bacteria live in our bodies and constantly secrete metabolites that affect our health.

Rheumatoid arthritis: Bacteria designed to infuse drugs