Sugar-coated bacteria may help in fight against cancer, says UCC

A spoonful of sugar, as any parent knows, helps the medicine go down — but it could also play a key role in preventing cancer and serious infections.

Research from University College Cork (UCC) has found that probiotic bacteria products, which provide a list of positive health benefits and have become a key part of most households’ weekly shop, survive in the gut mainly due to their sugar-like outer coating.

In addition, the external layer also helps to ensure the bacteria is able to evade the immune system and reduces infection levels of gut pathogens.

The findings — which are published today in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — have also detailed the unexpected scientific evidence behind parents’ claims as to children’s reluctant to take their medicine.

More importantly, the work of the research team behind the study also means that scientists have moved a step closer to understanding how probiotic bacteria helps to lessen the risk of some cancers, reduces infections and prevents ulcer relapses.

“In this study we have shown that the outer EPS (exo-cellular polysaccharide) coating protects the bacteria from acid and bile in the gut, and shields the bacteria from the host immune response,” said Prof Douwe van Sinderen, senior author on the three-person research team. “The EPS coating was also shown to prevent colonisation by a gut pathogen in mice.

“This surface EPS-dependent pathogen defence represents an exciting new avenue for probiotic research.”

Probiotic drinks have become a key part of the healthy foods industry, which is purportedly worth €25m a year in Ireland alone.

The research was based at UCC’s Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre and received support from The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. It was funded by Science Foundation Ireland, The Wellcome Trust and an EMBARK post-graduate scholarship from the National University of Ireland.

* FOCionnaith.direct@examiner.ie

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