It Takes Guts to Fight COVID-19
CU Medicine is the first to discover that good bacteria are missing in patients with COVID-19.
Inside the intestinal tract of every human body are more than 100 trillion bacteria, both good and bad, regulating our digestive system. Together, these bacteria make up our gut microbiota and, depending on how much they are in balance, can determine how likely we are to catch or ward off a virus, including COVID-19.
Now, a research team led by Professor Ng Siew-chien, Associate Director of the Centre for Gut Microbiota Research at the Faculty of Medicine of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CU Medicine), has developed a probiotic formula that will help to increase the good bacteria in the human gut, adding to our arsenal in the fight against the novel coronavirus.
(From right) Professor Francis Chan, Dean of CU Medicine and Director of the Centre for Gut Microbiota Research; Professor Paul Chan, Chairman of the Department of Microbiology; and Professor Siew Ng, Associate Director of the Centre for Gut Microbiota Research at CUHK.
The formula came out of the discovery that good bacteria are missing in patients with COVID-19. Since these patients had an imbalance (dysbiosis) in the type of bacteria that was in their gut, they were at greater risk of infection. The severity of their illness also correlated with the amount of unfavourable bacteria.
The study was based on stool specimens collected from 15 COVID-19 patients in February and March, who had been hospitalised with mild to critically ill cases. In comparing the microorganisms in these patients’ guts with those from healthy individuals, it was found that the infected patients had an imbalance in their gut microbiota. What’s more, the greater the imbalance, the more severe the infection.
The research has since been expanded to over 150 COVID-19 patients and 1,500 healthy individuals.
A Diet to Live By
In addition to containing probiotics, the formula developed by the team makes use of a special technology to enhance the stability and quantity of live bacteria that could be used to target gut dysbiosis in COVID-19 patients.
CU Medicine has applied for patents for the team’s probiotic formula in China and the US and is now collaborating with technology and food companies to turn the formula into a probiotic supplement that can be added to our daily diet. It is expected to be available on the market within the next few months.
While the probiotic formula is not a cure, Professor Francis KL Chan, Dean of CU Medicine remains hopeful that this will be a novel approach in the fight against COVID-19. ‘We must identify the composition of intestinal bacteria that helps maintain our defences. From there, we can modulate the gut microbiota to boost our immunity.’