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Hydrogel Shown to Boost Beneficial Gut Microbes

Gut microbes

Gut microbes cultured in an artistic design (Nicola Fawcett, Wikimedia Commons)

29 Apr. 2022. Tests with lab mice show a highly absorbent biocompatible gel promotes the growth of beneficial microbes associated with good metabolic health. The biotech materials company Gelesis in Boston that conducted the study is presenting its findings at the World of Microbiome conference now underway in Vienna, Austria.

Gelesis creates synthetic gels designed to act like raw vegetables, particularly their beneficial functions in the gastrointestinal system. The company’s technology produces three-dimensional hydrogels, made of water-based biocompatible polymers, with cellulose sodium salts similar to those found in common food thickeners and citric acid in fruit. The company’s gels are taken as capsules, where they absorb water and mix with ingested food in the stomach, and move into the small intestine without being absorbed. In the colon, the gels then release the absorbed water, which are excreted in stools.

Gelesis’s lead product is a prescription weight-management gel with the brand name Plenity, cleared for adults in the U.S. and Europe, that the company says makes a person feel full, but works more efficiently than food. Other Gelesis products in development are gels designed to work in the gut for treating obesity in adolescents, type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NAFLD/NASH), and constipation. In Nov. 2021, Science & Enterprise reported on published lab test results by a Gelesis team showing its gels act similarly to raw vegetables in absorbing water and protecting mucous layers in the gut.

Healthier microbial balance

The new findings report on tests with lab mice fed a high-fat diet to create obesity like that experienced by many humans. Researchers fed the mice this diet for 12 weeks, with part of the mice also given the Gelesis experimental product code-named Gel-B, a superabsorbent hydrogel with mechanical properties similar to raw vegetables. In previous studies, say the researchers, mice given Gel-B experienced improved metabolic functioning, and in this experiment, the team focused on changes in gut microbes.

Researchers analyzed the genomics of fecal samples from the mice after 12, 16, and 24 weeks. The findings show mice given Gel-B have a higher ratio of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes bacteria, considered an indicator of obesity, restoring a healthier balance of these microbes disrupted by a high-fat diet. In addition, Gel-B recipient mice experience higher levels of Akkermansia muciniphila bacteria, associated with a thicker mucous layer in the gut, an indicator of better gut health. Further lab tests, says the team, show the gel’s ingredients without the unique elastic cellulose fibers in Gel-B do not encourage Akkermansia muciniphila bacteria development, suggesting those fibers are a key ingredient in the product.

Maria Rescigno, a researcher in mucosal immunology and microbiota at Humanitas University in Milan, Italy, and co-author of the paper notes in a Gelesis statement released through BusinessWire that “along with weight loss and changes in gut permeability, we saw beneficial changes in the gut microbiota. Rescigno adds, “Most pronounced was an increase in Akkermansia muciniphila, which is known to be associated with metabolic health.”

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