Using endogenous gut bacteria to protect against infectious diseases

An alternative approach to antibiotic therapy lies in the exploitation of our own gut bacteria (our microbiota). Birth marks the commencement of gut colonisation by pioneer bacteria including the genus Bifidobacterium. The human gut microbiota is critical for health and previous studies have correlated high levels of bifidobacteria in neonates and infants with reduced infection rates from a variety of gastric and systemic pathogens.  Work at Norwich Medical School (University of East Anglia) and the Quadram Institute Bioscience has shown that colonisation by specific bifidobacteria is able to reduce levels of enteropathogenic Escherichia coli. Bifidobacteria can prevent infections by direct pathogen antagonism and by indirect stimulation of the host immune system.

Our approach is two-fold: (a) identification and supplementation of particular early-life bifidobacterial strains or communities that can directly inhibit pathogens and/or strengthen host immunity, particularly following administration of antibiotics, and (b) mining and purifying novel antimicrobial products produced by bifidobacteria and other gut bacteria (including exopolysaccharides and narrow-spectrum bacterocins). Focusing on specific bifidobacterial communities and their components provides a strategic approach for mining novel anti-infectives that have evolved and continue to evolve in response to challenge by human pathogens.

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Escherichia coli in the human intestine, Samuel Ellis (Quadram Institute Bioscience). NRP Image Library 192


Earlham institute
Quadram Institute Bioscience
John Innes Centre
The Sainsbury Laboratory
NHS NNUH
University of East Anglia

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