NAVS/IFER Researcher Identifies Potential Problems with Probiotics

NAVS’ investment in promoting humane science and supporting the development of human-relevant, animal-free alternatives is making a difference. The graduate students we support through the International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER) are publishing their research and educating the scientific community about alternative methods that can reduce, and possibly replace, animal experiments in many areas of science.

This week’s Science First highlights the work of one of our former fellowship recipients, Woojung Shin, a Ph.D. student working in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Over the past several years, Woojung has been studying human intestinal inflammatory diseases—complex conditions that involve interactions between gut microbes, intestinal cells and components of the immune system—using a sophisticated gut-on-a-chip model to mimic the dynamic microenvironment of the human intestine.

Although dozens of animal models are currently available to study gut inflammation, Woojung and her mentor, Dr. Hyun Jung Kim, have come to recognize the limitations of these models and the advantages of using a human-relevant approach.

The researchers used their human gut-on-a-chip microphysiological system to better understand how gut inflammation begins. They examined the effect of probiotics, live bacteria which have been considered to be good for our digestive systems. As you may know, the hype about probiotics has increased in recent times, such that they are being marketed in foods and dietary supplements.

But research led by our grant recipient showed that the benefits of probiotics actually depend on the integrity of one’s intestinal barrier. Woojung’s sophisticated in vitro model helped to show that disruption of the gut barrier initiates the onset of intestinal inflammation.

“Once the gut barrier has been damaged, probiotics can be harmful just like any other bacteria that escape into the human body through a damaged intestinal barrier,” Woojung noted. “When the gut barrier is healthy, probiotics are beneficial. When it is compromised, however, they can cause more harm than good.”

One of the advantages to Woojung’s model over existing models is that independent contributing factors to gut inflammation can be altered to get a better understanding of their role in the process. 

“By making it possible to customize specific conditions in the gut, we could establish the original catalyst, or onset initiator, for the disease,” noted Dr. Kim. “If we can determine the root cause, we can more accurately determine the most appropriate treatment.”

In the future, Woojung plans to use the gut-on-a-chip device to investigate inflammatory bowel disease or colorectal cancer to learn more about the influence of the gut microbiome on these conditions.

NAVS is proud to support work like Woojung’s which strives to advance our knowledge of human intestinal conditions without harming animals.

Help NAVS support smarter science—such as Woojung’s—that advances discovery, innovation and human-relevant solutions without the use of harmful, flawed and costly animal experiments by making a donation today.

This entry was posted in News and tagged on November 12, 2018.
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