Reprogramming Bacteria

Synlogic, an MIT spinout company, has just announced the development of synthetic biotics—programmed bacteria and microbiota living symbiotically within the human organism—that could track and fix abnormalities at a metabolic level. These biotics can be taken in liquid or capsule form, and when taken regularly, can help treat serious diseases and even rare genetic disorders.

Currently, there are now two drugs that are set to begin clinical trials—one targeting treatment for urea cycle disorder (UCD—an enzyme deficiency that causes ammonia buildup in the blood) and the other for phenylketonuria (PKU—where a metabolic enzyme mutation causes excessive phenylalanine). For both diseases, the drugs are designed to flush toxic metabolites from the body.

Synthetic Biotics

Synthetic biotics basically work by detecting and regulating the volume of an enzyme produced or its metabolic byproduct. They are thought of as "biological thermostats," which allow imbalanced body systems to settle back onto a healthier track. 

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Thus far, the main challenge encountered by the team behind the study is finding the right dosage, given that either too little or too much can be detrimental—but with the right level of dosage, the effects on the immune system are very positive.

This also means diseases that are traditionally difficult to treat can now be addressed. UCD, for example, which usually requires a liver transplant, could potentially now be treated with a daily biotic capable of converting intestinal ammonia into amino acids that can be naturally flushed from the system.

In addition, the study could also be applied for the treatment of other serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease and nervous system disorders.

There's still much to be done for Synlogic, since it lacks at the moment the clinical validation to allow their immediate admission to the pharmaceutical field. But the company hopes to devise new, more narrowly targeted synthetic biotics that can pass clinical tests, and hopefully revolutionize the non-invasive treatment of some of the disorders that plague our species.

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