Zurich – Researchers at the startup company Pharmabiome have developed an artificial gut flora that can be implanted into patients suffering from intestinal disorders. The development could offer an alternative to risky fecal transplants.

Around 500 types of bacteria live in human intestines. Together they make up a complex ecosystem in which every species of bacteria carries out a specific job. Among their functions is supporting the digestion of food.

This ecosystem can fall out of balance, such as with Clostridium difficile, a bacterium that produces poison and damages the intestinal wall. Patients experience diarrhea and weight loss, and in extreme cases can suffer from internal bleeding.  

Fecal transplants are often the only way to treat this infection. A healthy stool, usually from a volunteer relative, is introduced into the bowels. It acts as a starter culture to re-form a healthy gut flora. However, the process is risky, with the potential to transmit pathogens.

Pharmabiome, a spin-off from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH), has now developed an alternative to fecal transplants.

The startup company produced artificial gut flora in the laboratory, announced a statement. In tests with mice, it produced a better effect than fecal transplant. The company has patented the artificial gut flora and now wants to test it in humans.

“We are currently looking for a partner company that wants to conduct clinical trials with us,” explained Tomas de Wouters, CEO of Pharmabiome.

Potential application areas for the artificial gut flora are not limited to Clostridium difficile infections. It could also be used to treat chronic inflammatory disease of the intestines or bowel cancer.

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