Health & Fitness

Promise of better tummy bugs cure

A medical worker comforts a patient in hospital. FILE PHOTO | NMG
A medical worker comforts a patient in hospital. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Scientists have developed a new mechanism for treating bacterial infections in the stomach with acid sensitive antibiotics.

The novel approach involves the use of small particles (known as micro-motors) which carry the drugs and transport them to the stomach.

But just like rockets, the particles hold on to the antibiotics and only release them at an opportune time - when the PH in the stomach is at desired levels – so as to ensure that the medicines are not destroyed by stomach acid before they can act.

The use of this novel technology in treating bacterial infections was tested for the first time by Nano-engineers from the University of California, San Diego.

The results are published in the current issue of Nature Communications journal.

People with various gut infections are usually given oral tablets that first dissolve before being absorbed into the blood stream, which then transports them to sites they are required for treatment.

Most of these stomach medicines – especially antibiotics and protein based treatments - are primed to work effectively in less acidic environments.

Therefore, gastric acid produced in the stomach usually sabotages their work hence interfering with their absorption and efficacy.

To address this problem, doctors treating common stomach ailments like bacterial infections and ulcers usually combine the recommended sensitive antibiotics with another class of drugs (called proton pump inhibitors) to suppress gastric acid production in the stomach.

This provides the drugs with a suitable environment that cushions them from acid destruction thus enabling them to work effectively.

Despite playing a key role in treatment, these acid suppressing medicines are not supposed to be taken in high doses or over longer periods since they end up causing adverse health effects such as diarrhoea, headaches, fatigue, anxiety and depression.

Consequently, scientists have been trying to look for alternative treatment methods that can alleviate these shortcomings especially among individuals who may be required to take acid sensitive antibiotics for long durations.

The two lead authors of the study - Prof Joseph Wang and Prof Liangfang Zhang - stated that the novel micro-motor technology offers a promising new approach that could potentially be used to treat stomach complications with acid sensitive drugs.

According to them, the micro-motors have a built in mechanism that allows them to neutralise gastric acid and effectively deliver their drug ‘load’ into the stomach without the use of acid blockers.

They are like tiny particles (each about half the width of a human hair) that swim rapidly throughout the stomach while neutralising gastric acid before releasing the antibiotics.

“It’s a one-step treatment with these micro-motors. They combine acid neutralisation with therapeutic action,” said Berta Esteban-Fernández de Ávila, a co-author of the study.

Researchers tested the micro-motors in laboratory mice infected with bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori).

These bugs are responsible for a myriad of stomach complications in human beings including gastritis (hyperacidity), ulcers and stomach cancers.

The micro-motors, packed with appropriate doses of an antibiotic known as clarithromycin, were administered orally once a day for five consecutive days.

Afterwards, researchers evaluated the bacterial count in the stomach of each mouse and found that treatment with the micro-motors was more effective than when the same dose of antibiotic was given in combination with acid blockers as is common practise.

The scientists noted that the findings of this research, still in its early stages, open the door to the use of synthetic micro-motors as active delivery platforms for treatment of diseases.

Some of the common symptoms of stomach complications include recurrent stomach upsets or pain, abdominal bloating, vomiting, indigestion, loss of appetite and a burning sensation in the stomach.