Benoit Chassaing, a Georgia State University researcher, recently received a $300,000 Career Development Award from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America to investigate how the immune system can prevent the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Dr. Chassaing will study how the adaptive immune system, which protects the body against pathogens, can control intestinal bacteria to prevent gut inflammation.
IBD is an idiopathic and chronic immune reaction to the body’s intestinal microbiota, triggered by factors like physiology, genetics, and the environment. It was previously thought to be triggered solely by adaptive immune responses, but newer research gives an equal role to the innate immune system as a cause of the imbalance in microbiota — microorganisms living in the human gut — that leads to an aggravated inflammatory response, ultimately causing IBD.
Although the immune system is supposed to protect the host from foreign pathogens and infections, in IBD patients it mistakes the body’s own microbes, food, and other elements for foreign threats and attacks the intestine. IBD symptoms can include cramping, abdominal pain, and persistent diarrhea.
“I hypothesize that vaccination with specific bacterial components can be used to modify the intestinal microbiota in a way to make it less susceptible to drive intestinal inflammation,”Dr. Chassaing, an assistant professor in the university’s Institute for Biomedical Sciences, said in a press release. “If proven correct, the project would advance a novel approach to prevent and/or treat IBD.”
Taking a different approach from previous studies, Dr. Chassaing hopes to identify ways to activate the mucosal immune system, a part of the adaptive immune system that shields the intestine from pathogen invasion, to reduce bacteria with high inflammation potential. Approaches aiming to fight the disease by modifying the existing microbiota are not well developed, so this study has the potential to advance IBD treatment.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 1.3 million people in the U.S. suffer from IBD. The most common types of IBD are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, both characterized by an abnormal immune system response.