We tend to think of bacteria as bad news, but some types found in our stomaches can bring great health benefits, such as those that feed on dark chocolate to produce anti-inflammatory compounds. Now, scientists have discovered a gut microbe that could be used to treat diseases outside the stomach, presenting new territory for these belly-dwelling bacteria.

Live bacteria have been used for a long time to help with things like digestion, treating diarrhea and fending off harmful bacteria that can cause infections. But these probiotics have not been known to have an effect on diseases that strike beyond the stomach. So when a team of researchers from the Mayo Clinic tested three bacterial strains on a mouse model of multiple sclerosis (MS) and found one that seemed to suppress the immune disease, they were suitably excited.

"This is an early discovery but an avenue that bears further study," says Joseph Murray, a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist and senior author of the paper. "If we can use the microbes already in the human body to treat human disease beyond the gut itself, we may be onto a new era of medicine. We are talking about bugs as drugs."

The bug-drug in question, or "brug" as Murray has now termed them, is called Prevotella histicola, and was cultured from the human intestine. When administered to the mice with MS, it brought about a decrease in two cells that normally cause inflammation, while also boosting families of cells, such as T-cells and dendritic cells, that fight off the disease.

"Recent MS microbiome studies have shown the lack of Prevotella genus in patients with the disease and an increase when patients were treated with disease-modifying drugs," says Ashutosh Mangalam, first author and principal investigator of the study. "And it's not just for MS, because this may have a similar modulating effect on other nervous system and autoimmune diseases."

You can see Murray discuss the discovery in the video below, while the research was published in the journal Cell Reports.

Source: Mayo Clinic