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Vanderbilt study shows therapeutic bacteria prevent obesity in mice

A probiotic that prevents obesity could be on the horizon. Bacteria that produce a therapeutic compound in the gut inhibit weight gain, insulin resistance and other adverse effects of a high-fat diet in mice, Vanderbilt University investigators have discovered.

"Of course it's hard to speculate from mouse to human," said senior investigator Sean Davies, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pharmacology. "But essentially we've prevented most of the negative consequences of obesity in mice, even though they're eating a high-fat diet."

Regulatory issues must be addressed before moving to human studies, Davies said, but the findings published in the August issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation suggest that it may be possible to manipulate the bacterial residents of the gut the gut microbiota to treat obesity and other chronic diseases.

Davies has a long-standing interest in using probiotic bacteria "friendly" bacteria like those in yogurt to deliver drugs to the gut in a sustained manner, in order to eliminate the daily drug regimens associated with chronic diseases.

In 2007, he received a National Institutes of Health Director's New Innovator Award to develop and test the idea.

"The NIH basically said, 'we like this idea, now make it work,'" Davies said. "The New Innovator Award was critical to our success."

Other studies have demonstrated that the natural gut microbiota plays a role in obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

"The types of bacteria you have in your gut influence your risk for chronic diseases," Davies said. "We wondered if we could manipulate the gut microbiota in a way that would promote health."

To start, the team needed a safe bacterial strain that colonizes the human gut. They selected E. coli Nissle 1917, which has been used as a probiotic treatment for diarrhea since its discovery nearly 100 years ago.

They genetically modified the E. coli Nissle strain to produce a lipid c

Contact: Leigh MacMillan
Vanderbilt University Medical Center

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