Researchers Genetically Engineer Bacteria To Help Combat Obesity

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Researchers with Vanderbilt University have developed a new anti-obesity therapy that relies on genetically engineered bacteria being introduced to the body. The idea comes from an emerging field of research focused on altering a persons microboime, or the helpful bacteria that lives naturally within everyone. Various initiatives are currently underway to see what kinds of benefits can be gleaned from genetically altering microbiome. Researchers hope that one day microbiome could be altered to excrete drugs that would control diabetes, heart failure, or other chronic conditions.

To demonstrate the concept in practice, researchers altered the microbiome of mice to produce an appetite-suppressing chemical that is normally produced by the intestines when food is eaten. The chemical relays a message to the brain to reduce the sensation of hunger. Some people, researchers say, do not produce enough of this compound and as a result overeat. Pharmaceutical companies are already working on therapies that introduce this compound as a means of combating obesity.  In this study, researchers introduced the compound by creating genetically modified bacteria that naturally excretes it.  In the study, researchers gave mice

The benefit of microbiome-delivered drugs is real, with the potential to eliminate the costly problem of medication non-adherence if  successful, but the research is at a fledgling stage and scientists still do not know enough about human microbiome to decide it is even likely to succeed. Researchers point out that foreign microbiome would likely be killed by the naturally-occurring biome in the human body that it would have to compete with, and that even if the bacteria survived, so little is known about what these microbiomes do for the human body that altering them in any way would be a dangerous proposition. In an effort to clarify the role that various microbiomes play in the human body, the US National Institutes of Health has funded a $200 million Human Microbiome project that is funding research investigating these bacteria, but the research is slow going because many of the bacteria that live in the human body do not reproduce in laboratory settings, leaving researchers with no clear way of studying them on a large scale.


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