Cúram researchers find two potential treatment methods for gut diseases

31 Jan 2022

A healing gel for inflamed cells to significantly improve treatment of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Image: Maciek Doczyk

The researchers focused on gut disorders such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which affect around 3.2m people in Europe.

Scientists in Ireland have explored new ways to help patients with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis through improved protection of the intestine and new drug delivery methods.

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are characterised by chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract and are estimated to affect around 3.2m people in Europe.

A team at Cúram, the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research centre for medical devices based at NUI Galway, has identified a new method of restoring the intestinal lining of patients with IBD.

The researchers said current treatments mainly focus on maintaining remission levels but can’t address the root cause of the condition, such as damage to intestinal lining and function.

In a study published in Advanced Science, they designed a hyaluronan enema, which is similar to the fluid that surrounds joints in the body. This enema showed significant potential in protecting against intestinal lining damage by decreasing inflammation and aiding in intestinal health maintenance.

Researchers said this indicates that the treatment could help prevent further inflammation, which is how conditions like Crohn’s disease worsen over time.

“This research demonstrates the efficacy of a unique therapeutic strategy able to induce a positive effect on damaged colonic tissue,” co-lead of the publication Dr Yury Rochev said. “The reduction in inflammation will be of great benefit to patients and highlights the potential use of this treatment.”

The principal research of the study was conducted by Dr Niranjan Kotla at Cúram in collaboration with Dr Venkatakrishna R Jala from the University of Louisville in the US.

Drug delivery research

Alongside the research into a specific treatment for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, a group of Cúram researchers investigated a way to deliver drugs directly to affected intestines to treat IBD.

The researchers behind the study, published in the journal Biomaterials, said delivering drugs to these areas is highly challenging but potentially effective.

To increase the potential success of this treatment method, the team developed strong anionic charged inflammation targeted nanocarriers (IT-NCs) loaded with an immunosuppressant model drug.

“Our results suggest that IT-NCs have promising therapeutic potential as delivery carriers in colitis management,” said Prof Abhay Pandit,  co-lead of the study and director of Cúram.

This research was funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

Earlier this month, a world-leading expert in gut inflammation disorders received €5.6m through the SFI Professorship Award to establish a new laboratory at APC Microbiome Ireland in University College Cork.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic