New Microbes Observed in Probiotic Test

A clinical study of probiotics in children with celiac has found yet-unknown microbes may participate in the disease. Several other species previously known also make an appearance either for good or ill.

Gene sequencing has revolutionized microbiology over the past 15 years. It can detect organisms that have not yet been cultured or studied in the lab. It is shedding light on unforeseen diversity in the human microbiome. Although the microbiome changes in people with celiac, it remains unclear whether virulent microbes cause the disease or gain a foothold after inflammation occurs. Bifidobacterium breve, a healthy bacterium of the infant gut, is believed by some experts to support the immune system as it matures. If so, probiotic supplements like B. breve might protect against celiac and other inflammatory diseases.

The study at University Medical Center Maribor, Slovenia, enrolled 40 children with celiac and 16 healthy children. Those with celiac were randomly assigned to receive either the B. breve probiotic or a placebo for three months. Blood and stool samples were taken from the children with celiac before and after the treatment and compared with healthy children.

Besides finding several groups of microbes that might trigger celiac, this study found little-known microbes that occur in low abundance but may help prevent disease in people at risk. In celiac patients after probiotic treatment, Firmicutes bacteria and some other unknown and lesser-known species increased as homeostasis returned. These microbes could be useful in treatment to restore a healthy microbiome.

Besides gut microbes, celiac disease relates to dietary, psychological and other environmental factors that are still poorly understood. This study provides hints about the microbiome, but there is not enough evidence yet to support treating celiac with probiotics. Meanwhile, in identifying new microbes, it sheds light on the complex world we live in and that lives in us.

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