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Headlines Published on 24 August 2007

LIFE SCIENCES
Title Europeans find link between L. lactis and allergens

European researchers have gained more ground in their quest to find a new strategy for the treatment of various autoimmune and allergic disorders. VIB (Flanders Institute for Biotechnology) researchers associated with Ghent University, in collaboration with the Amsterdam-based Academic Medical Center, have discovered that the oral intake of allergens or autoantigens through the lactic acid bacterium Lactococcus lactis (L. lactis) may hold the key to this mystery.

<em>L. lactis</em> is not just for cheese production! Researchers are now discovering how this bacterium can actually help people fight diseases. © Archenzo Varese
L. lactis is not just for cheese production! Researchers are now discovering how this bacterium can actually help people fight diseases.
Image: Archenzo Varese
People's immune systems fight harmful substances and microorganisms that target their bodies. But problems surface when a weak immune system cannot fight these diseases. Even more serious are autoimmune diseases, which occur when the immune system cannot distinguish between the body's own substances and foreign substances. So tissues and organs are ultimately attacked.

But the immune system can also err and attack harmless substances, including pollen, resulting in an allergy. Allergies now affect 1 in 5 Europeans and the number of sufferers has risen since the early 1990s.

While VIB has patented the principle of allergens being administered orally through the L. lactis, ActoGeniX (a spin-off from VIB and Ghent University) is currently developing different biopharmaceutical medicines for a range of clinical indications.

Researchers have long known the significant role L. lactis plays in the conversion of milk to cheese and yoghurt. It is a species of non-sporulating, non-motile, Gram-positive bacteria. From a therapeutic perspective, VIB researchers have been using L. lactis in the fight against gastroenteritis, a chronic intestinal disease. Their preliminary findings show that they are moving in the right direction.

L. lactis can also be used to fight other disorders, and researchers believe several active substances can be used to suppress allergies and autoimmune diseases. While this may work in theory, the researchers were determined to figure out how these substances could be introduced into the intestine efficiently.

A brainstorming session between VIB researcher Pieter Rottiers and his colleagues resulted in the decision to use L. lactis, where they introduced DNA with the code for a therapeutic protein into the bacterium's DNA. They, together with the AMC-based physician, Inge L. Huibregtse, were able to get L. lactis to produce the ovalbumin (OVA) protein.

Based on these initial results, L. lactis can be used to induce tolerance towards certain substances. The researchers can effectively use and expand this strategy to treat allergic and autoimmune disorders. Researchers are determined to find more effective treatments, but with fewer side effects, for these disorders, which are on the rise.

ActoGeniX is now in the process of developing such new medicines. Launched in 2006, ActoGeniX is using the technology from VIB and Ghent University to develop a series of safe, serviceable medicines that can effectively fight diseases.







More information:

  • VIB
  • ActoGeniX
  • Asthma research on Europa







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