Leading the way in Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Published in the DAA Gastro IG Newsletter, April 2020, Issue 17.

Dietitians would be very familiar with the prevalence of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in Australia. IBD is a chronic disease that is characterised by episodic inflammation of the gut.

Australia has one of the highest incidences of IBD worldwide, affecting 1 in every 250 Australians1 (equating to over 80,000 people), with 14 new cases diagnosed every day. IBD is incurable and associated with significant comorbidities. There is a critical need for safe and effective therapeutics to improve patient quality of life, maintain remission over long periods, reduce surgery and curtail the individual and public health costs.

Inspired by the emerging evidence of the role the microbiome plays in IBD, a leading Australian company that analyses gut microbiome has launched an IBD Research and Development (R&D) program in 2019 to tackle IBD by mining the gut microbiome for novel biotherapeutics. Heading up the team is Dr Páraic Ó Cuív – Lead, Live Biotherapeutics – and Associate Professor Lutz Krause – Head of Data-Mining and Artificial Intelligence. The company’s world-leading DNA sequencing platform affords them a great opportunity to contribute to diagnostics and therapeutics for IBD sufferers.

Establishing the R&D program allowed the company to capitalise on the advanced technologies in use and their rapidly growing genomic database. Microbiome expert, Professor Gene Tyson leads microbiome research at the Queensland University of Technology. He said that the gut microbiome holds significant promise for the identification of novel therapeutics to treat inflammatory bowel disease.

“Using advanced DNA sequencing approach, we are able to discover novel species which we believe may play protective or causative roles in IBD,” he said.

Thus far, the team has identified 20 bacterial species commonly found in healthy individuals but rarely detected in Crohn’s and/or Ulcerative Colitis. They are now performing pre-clinical studies to translate these discoveries into effective therapeutics.

“It has been recognised for many years that dietary-based interventions for Crohn’s disease, Exclusive Enteral Nutrition (EEN), are comparable to corticosteroids in terms of remission rates but are superior in reversing the nutritional defects associated with chronic inflammation and inducing mucosal healing. In particular, mucosal healing is prognostic of long-term health outcomes,” Dr. Ó Cuív explained.

“However, long term compliance with EEN based diets is poor and there is no similar treatment for ulcerative colitis.”

As part of their gut microbiome analysis products, data is collected from customers via a Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ). Customers who opt-in to have their de-identified data used for research will provide invaluable information which will be used to investigate how food shapes the gut microbiome and how the gut microbiome can be modulated to a healthier state via dietary interventions.

The FFQ was developed by their Lead Accredited Practising Dietitian, Dr Paula Smith-Brown, who pioneered the world’s first microbiome-focused FFQ. Ultimately, dietary suggestions would be able to come from discoveries made in the IBD program and feedback into the Insight™ kit for clients and help to improve their dietary recommendations. The ultimate goal is to improve the quality of life and health outcomes of IBD patients via the development of effective and well-tolerated gut-microbiome derived therapeutics, and to develop precision medicine tools to personalise patient treatment.

“The best outcome we could hope for is that therapeutics developed by this research will assist IBD patients to maintain disease-free remission over long periods with little toxicity or side effects,” Dr. Ó Cuív said.

To learn more about the IBD program, visit www.microba.com/announcements.

1. PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia (2013) Improving Inflammatory
Bowel Disease Care Across Australia, March 2013, Australia.