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How some probiotic scientists are working to address COVID-19

By ISAPP board of directors

With the global spread of COVID-19, the scientific community has experienced an unusual interruption. Across every field, many laboratories are temporarily shuttered and research programs of all sizes are on hiatus. Principal investigators around the world are doing their part to keep their students and local communities safe, and many are donating lab safety equipment to medical first responders who urgently need it.

In this global circumstance of research being put on hold, it is enlightening to consider what some scientists in the fields of probiotics, prebiotics, and fermented foods are working on—or proposing—in the context of understanding ways to combat viral threats. These individuals are rising to the scientific challenge of finding effective ways to prevent or treat viral infections, which may directly or indirectly contribute to progress against SARS-CoV-2.

Here, ISAPP shares words from some of these scientists—and how they have connected the dots from probiotics to coronavirus-related work with potential medical relevance.

Prof. Sarah Lebeer, University of Antwerp, Belgium: Relevance of the airway microbiome profile to COVID-19 respiratory infection and using certain lactobacilli to enhance delivery or efficacy of vaccines

Could the microbes in our upper and lower airways play a role in how we respond to the virus? Significant individual differences exist in the microbes that are prevalent and dominant in our airways. Lactobacilli are found in the respiratory tract, especially in the nasopharynx. They might originate there from the oral cavity via the oronasopharynx, but we have found some strains that seem to be more adapted to the respiratory environment, for example by expressing catalase enzymes to withstand oxidative stress. Currently we have a Cell Reports paper in press that shows certain lactobacilli are more prevalent in the upper respiratory tract of healthy people compared to those with chronic rhinosinusitis. Further investigation of one strain found in healthy people showed it inhibited growth and virulence of several upper respiratory tract pathogens. Our work on other viruses shows that certain lactobacilli can even block the attachment of viral particles to human cells. This raises the possibility that lactobacilli could be supplemented through a local spray to help improve defenses against the inhaled virus. Based on these data, we are initiating an exploratory study with clinicians and virologists on whether specific strains of lactobacilli in the nasopharynx and oropharynx could have potential to reduce viral activity via a multifactorial mode of action, including barrier-enhancing and anti-inflammatory effects, and reduce the risk of secondary bacterial infections in COVID-19.

Another line of exploratory research from our lab pertains to the delivery or efficacy of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. Currently, many groups are rapidly developing vaccines, which predominantly use the viral spike S protein or its receptor-binding domain as antigen to induce protective immunity. We are exploring the potential of specific strains of lactobacilli with immunostimulatory effects as adjuvants for intranasal SARS-CoV-2 vaccination, or the potential of a genetically engineered antigen-producing organism for vaccine delivery.

At this year’s virtual ISAPP annual meeting, Dr. Karen Scott and I will also be leading an ISAPP discussion group called “How your gut microbiota can help protect against viral infections”. We will discuss previous work that has shown bacteria can have anti-viral effects. For many years, our colleagues, Profs. Hania Szajewska and Seppo Salminen, have studied a different virus, namely rotavirus, that causes acute diarrhea in children, and have found that Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (new taxonomy Lacticaseibacillus rhamnosus GG) binds rotavirus and disables it, thereby blocking viral infection/multiplication. This may explain why this probiotic reduces the incidence and duration of acute diarrhea in children. Similar findings have been reported for specific probiotics and prebiotics and prevention of upper respiratory tract infections.

Prof. Rodolphe Barrangou, North Carolina State University, USA: Engineering probiotic lactobacilli for vaccine development

Between NC State University and Colorado State University (CSU) there is a historical collaborative effort aiming at engineering probiotics to develop novel vaccines. The intersection of probiotics and antivirals is the focus here with expressing antigens on the cell surface of probiotics to develop oral vaccines. The CSU infectious diseases center is very much fully operational and focused on COVID-19 now, and we recently received a research exception to open our lab for two individuals assigned to this NIH-funded project, and pivot our rotavirus efforts here to coronavirus. We are actively engineering Lactobacillus acidophilus probiotics expressing COVID-19 proteins to be tested as potential vaccines at CSU in the near future, as progress dictates.

Prof. Colin Hill, University College Cork, Ireland: The microbiome as a predictor of COVID-19 outcomes

We have recently proposed a project to examine oral and faecal microbiomes to identify correlations/associations between COVID-19 disease severity and individual microbiome profiles. If funded, we propose to analyse bacterial and viral components of the microbiome from three body sites (nasopharyngeal swabs, saliva, and faeces) in 200 donors and mine the data for biomarkers of disease risk and clinical severity. We will use machine learning to identify microbiome signatures in patients who contract the virus and remain asymptomatic, those who develop a mild infection, or those who have an acute infection requiring admission to an intensive care unit and intubation. This will enable microbiome-based risk stratification of subjects testing positive, and appropriate clinical management and early intervention, and prioritization of subjects for receiving an eventual vaccine.

Dr. Dinesh Saralaya, Bradford Institute for Health Research, UK: A live biotherapeutic product for targeted immunomodulation in COVID-19 infection

The COVID-19 pandemic presents an unprecedented challenge to our healthcare systems and we desperately require the rapid development of new therapies to ease the burden on our intensive care units. As well as its appropriate mechanism of action (targeted immunomodulation rather than broad immunosuppression), the highly favourable safety profile of MRx-4DP0004 makes it a particularly attractive candidate for COVID-19 patients, and may potentially allow us to prevent or delay their progression to requiring ventilation and intensive care.

The trial is a Phase II randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to evaluate the efficacy and safety of oral Live Biotherapeutic MRx-4DP0004 in addition to standard supportive care for hospitalised COVID-19 patients. Up to 90 subjects will be randomised 2:1 to receive either MRx-4DP0004 or placebo (two capsules, twice daily) for 14 days. The primary endpoint is change in mean clinical status score as measured by the WHO’s 9-point Ordinal Scale for Clinical Improvement, while secondary endpoints include a suite of additional measures of clinical efficacy such as need for and duration of ventilation, time to discharge, mortality, as well as safety and tolerability. The size and design of the trial are intended to generate a meaningful signal of clinical benefit as rapidly as possible.

Drs. Paul Wischmeyer and Anthony Sung, Duke University School of Medicine, USA: Probiotics for prevention or treatment of COVID-19 infection

We are planning several randomized clinical trials of probiotics in COVID-19 prevention and treatment. These trials are based on multiple randomized clinical trials and meta-analyses that have shown that prophylaxis with probiotics may reduce upper and lower respiratory tract infections, sepsis, and ventilator associated pneumonia by 30-50%. These benefits may be mediated by the beneficial effects of probiotics on the immune system. The Wischmeyer laboratory and others have shown that probiotics, such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, can improve intestinal/lung barrier and homeostasis, increase regulatory T cells, improve anti-viral defense, and decrease pro-inflammatory cytokines in respiratory and systemic infections. These clinical and immunomodulatory benefits are especially relevant to individuals who have developed, or are at risk of developing, COVID-19. COVID-19 has been characterized by severe lower respiratory tract illness, and patients may manifest an excessive inflammatory response similar to cytokine release syndrome, which has been associated with increased complications and mortality. We hypothesize that probiotics will directly reduce COVID-19 infection risk and severity of disease/symptoms. Thus, we are proposing a range of trials, the first of which will be:

A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial of the PRObiotics To Eliminate COVID-19 Transmission in Exposed Household Contacts (PROTECT-EHC). Objective: Prevent infection and progression of illness in household contacts/caregivers of known COVID-19 patients exposed to COVID-19 (who have a >20-fold increased risk of infection). We will conduct a multicenter, randomized, double blind, phase 2 trial of the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG vs. placebo to decrease infections and improve outcomes. This trial will include weekly collection of microbiome samples from multiple locations (i.e. fecal, oral). This trial will utilize a commercial probiotic, delivering 20 billion CFU of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, and placebo.

We are currently developing protocols to study prevention and treatment of COVID-19 in a range of other at-risk populations including: 1) Healthcare providers; 2) Hospitalized patients; 3) Nursing home and skilled nursing facilities workers. We are seeking additional funding and potential collaborators/trial sites for this work, and encourage interested funders and collaborators to reach out for further information or to join the effort at: Paul.Wischmeyer@nullduke.edu and also encourage you to follow our progress and our other probiotic/microbiome work on Twitter: @paul_wischmeyer

Prof. Gregor Reid, University of Western Ontario, Canada: Documenting anti-viral mechanisms of certain probiotic strains

While our institute is now studying the cytokine storm in COVID-19 patients, the closure of my lab has meant I have turned to surveying the literature: Prof. Glenn Gibson and I have a paper published in Frontiers in Public Health stating a case for probiotics and prebiotics to help ‘flatten the curve’ and keep patients from progressing to severe illness. There is good evidence that certain orally administered probiotic strains can reduce the incidence and severity of viral respiratory tract infections. Mechanistically this appears to be, in part, through modulation of inflammatory responses similar to those causing severe illness in COVID-2 patients, and antiviral activity — which has not been shown against SARS-Co-V2 but has been documented against common respiratory viruses, including influenza, rhinovirus and respiratory syncytial virus. Improving gut barrier integrity and affecting the gut-lung axis may also be part of these probiotics’ mechanism of action. At a time when drugs are being tried with little or no anti-COVID-19 data, probiotic strains documented for anti-viral, immunomodulatory and respiratory activities should be considered for clinical trials to be part of the armamentarium to reduce the burden and severity of this pandemic.

Rapid, collaborative effort

As the world waits in ‘lockdown’ mode, continued scientific progress for coronavirus prevention or treatment is critically important. ISAPP salutes all probiotic and prebiotic scientists who are stepping up to pursue unique solutions. Addressing the important research questions described above will require a rapid collaborative effort, from obtaining ethical approval and involving medical staff to collecting the samples, to recruiting participants as well as experts to process and analyze samples. All of this has to be done in record time – but from our experience of this scientific community, it’s definitely up to the challenge.

seppo

Welcome Seppo Salminen – ISAPP’s New President

An interview with Prof. Seppo Salminen

ISAPP President 2018-2021

 

1) What are your goals as the next president of ISAPP? 

My goal is to work together with the board and the members to advance excellence in the science of probiotics and prebiotics and to share research and conclusions with as wide an audience as possible. It is also my goal to leverage ISAPP’s scientific  expertise to work with organizations to promote  evidence-based applications of probiotics and prebiotics to advance health and well-being of people.

2) What do you hope to see the organization accomplish during your tenure?

ISAPP is engaged now in North America, Europe and Asia so maybe we can be really be global and reach out to South America and  connect with researchers in Africa as we have done with Professor Reid earlier. I would like to work toward common goals with more industrial, scientific and regulatory experts from different parts of the world.

3) What changes do you foresee in the field of probiotics and prebiotics in the next few years?

 I foresee rapid development in probiotics and prebiotics. There will be novel microorganisms developed and novel sources of prebiotics and this direction leads to challenges in safety evaluation and efficacy demonstration  as well as communication of the results to larger audiences.

4) How did you originally become involved in ISAPP?

I was originally invited to one ISAPP meeting, then to the next one, then to the third one and at the end was invited to be a member of the board, which I considered a special honour!

5) Which ISAPP meeting was your favorite so far?

They all have been excellent, but some I remember (each for different reasons) are the ones in Barcelona, New York, Chicago and Berkeley – and now Singapore. Of course, the one in Turku, Finland as well – when you help organize a meeting like that you certainly remember even on a minute-by-minute basis.

Thank you Prof. Salminen and welcome!

free_webinar_gut

Free Webinar: Why is everybody talking about gut microbiota?

Coming up on Thursday, June 28th ISAPP Board Member Professor Glenn Gibson will be featured in a free webinar discussing gut microbiota. Hosted by the British Nutrition Foundation, the webinar will examine what we know about gut microbiota and what remains to be explored. Research on gut microbiota has indicated the gut has a role in metabolism, immunity, and more!

The British Nutrition Foundation says “This free webinar aims to increase understanding of the gut-brain axis and the evidence for the role of gut microbiota in metabolic health and immunity. We are absolutely delighted to have world renowned experts speaking in our programme including:

  • Professor Ian Rowland (University of Reading)
  • Professor Ted Dinan (University College Cork)
  • Professor Glenn Gibson (University of Reading) “

 
Find out more information and register for the webinar here.

probiotics association of india

ISAPP Goes to India

By Mary Ellen Sanders PhD and Dan Merenstein MD

ISAPP sent two key-note speakers to the Probiotics Association of India meeting, held Feb 16-17 in New Delhi. Prof. Dan Merenstein MD spoke on “Evidence for clinical indications: how do probiotics measure up?” and Dr. Mary Ellen Sanders addressed “Is it time for live cultures to be included in official dietary recommendations?”  Dr. Merenstein also gave a second talk on an ISAPP-supported project:  the evidence that probiotic consumption can reduce antibiotic utilization. This is the 3rd PAi meeting that ISAPP has supported through speaker sponsorship.

The meeting featured talks on synbiotics to prevent late-term sepsis (Pinaki Panigrahi), the impact of diet on the Indian gut microbiome (Yogesh Shouche), autism (Sheffali Gulati) and 10 selected student/young investigator presentations on diverse microbiota/probiotic studies. Because of the high quality student presentations, judges were unable to choose the best to award prizes. The solution: all 10 presentations were awarded 5000 INR, supported by Prof. Pinaki Panigrahi’s Center for Global Health and Development. A poster session and original probiotic-themed drawings (see below for one submission) were also presented.

Dr. Sanders also spoke on “The contribution of probiotics to health” in an event held February 15 sponsored by the Gut Microbiota and Probiotic Science Foundation (India). This event was attended by ~150 professionals in nutrition, medicine and microbiota/probiotic research.

Of course, the trip was not all work. Below, Mary Ellen takes a selfie with her new elephant friend, Sampa.

probiotic poster

Probiotics and Good Gut Health. An artistic interpretation by a student, Simranjeet Singh.

elephant india

Mary Ellen Sanders takes selfie with Sampa, a 62-year old Asian elephant.

news probiotics UK

ISAPP works to have evidence-based usage of probiotics to prevent antibiotic-associated diarrheoa implemented in UK

January 12, 2018. Antibiotics are amongst the most commonly prescribed drugs in UK hospitals. However, as well as treating infection they can cause disruption to the gastrointestinal microbiota. This can lead to the relatively common side-effect of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea (AAD) which often delays discharge. More concerning is that a disruption to the normal gut microbiota can lead to reduced resistance to opportunistic pathogens such as Clostridium difficile, leading to C. difficile infection, a potentially severe or fatal infection. Based on the available evidence, probiotics are a safe and effective adjunct to antibiotics to reduce the risk of developing AAD and for the primary prevention of CDAD. The International Scientific Association of Prebiotics and Probiotics has reviewed available data and supports several published assessments, which recommend probiotics as adjunctive therapy for prevention of AAD and CDAD.

This effort was led by Dr. Claire Merrifield BSc MBBS PhD, Speciality Registrar in General Practice, St. Mary’s Hospital, Imperial College Healthcare Trust, Imperial College London and Prof. Daniel Merenstein, MD, Department of Family Medicine, Georgetown University Medical Center and ISAPP Board Member and Treasurer.

Read full recommendation here, which will be sent to NICE and Public Health England.

baby crying colic

ISAPP Digs Deeper into Evidence on Probiotics for Colic with New Meta-Analysis

January 3, 2018.

Evidence exists for gut microbiota differences between infants with and without colic, with one probiotic strain of particular interest therapeutically for colicky infants: Lactobacillus reuteri DSM17938. Discussion groups convened at the 2014 and 2016 ISAPP meetings, both led by Prof. Michael Cabana MD MPH of University of California, San Francisco, and member of ISAPP’s board of directors, focused on the existing randomized, controlled trials and how they might inform medical recommendations.

The discussion group at the 2014 ISAPP meeting in Aberdeen Scotland resulted in a paper describing the individual patient data meta-analysis (IPDMA) protocol, which was published in BMJ Open.  The 2016 ISAPP meeting in Turku Finland culminated in the publication of this IPDMA in the journal Pediatrics: Lactobacillus reuteri to treat infant colic: a meta-analysis. Dr. Valerie Sung, Royal Children’s Hospital, The University of Melbourne and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, was lead author of this paper, whose coauthors included a team of 11 other experts spanning three continents.

This high quality meta-analysis used individual patient data rather than group means to get a more accurate picture of the efficacy of the probiotic. The paper concluded that L. reuteri DSM17938 is effective and can be recommended for breastfed infants with colic. However, data are lacking for efficacy in formula-fed infants.

“Any single randomized clinical trial involves a great deal of time and resources from investigators, institutions and most importantly, patients. By working together, our team was able to combine data to learn more about the effects of L. reuteri DSM 17983 on the treatment of infant colic. This analysis is a great example of the power of close international collaboration by clinical investigators.”

Related:

Probiotics for Colic—Is the Gut Responsible for Infant Crying After All? (Open access through Jan 10, 2018)

https://www.mcri.edu.au/news/hope-parents-children-colic