Written by Staff Writer
(CNN) — Soy milk, water and a saline solution in six fluid mixtures. Then, motorized train balls tossed into dozens of squirming volunteers. This is the concoction — loosely combined with ice — that the New England CoVimotics Co. uses to spur the immune system into attack mode against a “smallpox-like” agent in vaccine trials.
What remains mysterious, however, is the reason for the last ingredient. Apparently, it has something to do with a protein that plays a key role in aging.
The work at New England CoVimotics is part of a broader movement by biotech firms to use similar recipe methods in vaccines. It follows the lead of natural remedies including Chinese herbs, snake venom and a special extract of the berries of the locust berry.
These probiotics — microorganisms — are meant to boost what has long been known as the key to healthy living: the microbiome. This microbiome has been linked with everything from weight loss to infection and can be disrupted by things like eating certain foods and drugs.
The digestive tract plays a role in maintaining or restoring a healthy balance of microbes. Where within the gastrointestinal tract is this balance most affected? In large part, the answer lies with those microbiomes that produce high levels of a protein known as Bacteroidetes.
Bacteroidetes is known to play a central role in the development of key cytokines such as interleukin-1 (IL-1). It’s this cytokine signaling that allows the immune system to recognize pathogens and respond accordingly.
“One way the immune system is stimulated is by cytokines, but these cytokines can cause autoimmune diseases. Our theory is that Bacteroidetes produces cytokines because it helps protect the immune system from autoimmune diseases,” said Doug Brown, research coordinator at New England CoVimotics.
Brown was part of the research team that used their “rotating box” method to study a Bacteroidetes-producing strain of yeasts called Swagar and found that the yeast did indeed kill bacteria that were very similar to the diseases that cause allergies and asthma.
While the yeast strain studies take place in laboratories, the kidney transplants and the anti-aging stuff happen in the real world. One promising new device is the Blink Motion for the kidney transplant, also known as the NovoLogic Vital.
This type of treatment has been used in Austria, Germany and Russia for the past couple of years and is designed to transport waste fluids in and out of the human body without blood clots forming or damage being done to the organ, according to the Blink Motion’s website.
A body made up of a pair of smaller vessels — one that infuses fluid and the other that exits fluid — the Blink Motion device circulates the fluid fluid in a single line.
The question of whether it’s safe to use probiotics and germs in humans is what made Brown contemplate using mice as the model for human immunology. The vast majority of mouse diets include small amounts of probiotics in a particular strain of worms, one of which happens to be Bacteroidetes.
To make sure the mice would respond well to the treatment, Brown conducted various tests on the mice, including after they had been administered Bacteroidetes-derived microbes.
The results were “pretty spectacular,” he said.
The use of Bacteroidetes in such a manner won’t be standard fare for all autoimmune disorders. During the early-stage trials, for example, the mice were given Bacteroidetes containing a high-fibre diet — a “higher risk for allergies,” Brown said. But it’s the most extreme effects of the disease that make researchers feel confident in the approach.
When scientists in the United States and Europe first identified Bacteroidetes in the 1940s, the results of the disorder were interpreted as a supposed punishment for taking antibiotics, suggesting that the Bacteroidetes were intentionally damaged by the medication.
In more recent decades, Bacteroidetes have been used to treat a range of clinical disorders including allergies, asthma, arthritis, obesity, cancer and liver disease.
In autoimmune disease, however, the only ones who have access to Bacteroidetes to treat their disease is those with debilitating autoimmune diseases that don’t respond well to standard treatments such as the immune suppressant immunoglobulin E (IgE).