Pediatric researcher explores a bacterial cause of inflammatory bowel diseases

Eytan Wine's work to identify specific bacteria in the gut of patients with IBD could help treat or prevent flare-ups of this disease.

Tamara Vineberg - 07 January 2020

Eytan Wine is on the hunt but it's not a typical expedition. The associate professor in the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition is seeking specific bacteria that might be fueling inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). His team's search is yielding results that earned him a department award for his research paper.

The paper was published in Microbiome and captures work that has been done in the last four years. "Understanding IBD, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, and how the gut microbes or the microbiome might be involved in these conditions is the main focus of my lab. We've been trying to think of novel ways of determining how bacteria might be involved in the disease and how we can pick out specific bacteria that are most likely to be in a causative role," says Wine.

His paper won a 2019 Academic and Clinical Academic Colleague Research Paper Author Award from the Department of Pediatrics. Wine's team hypothesized that bacteria were more likely to be considered invasive if the body had produced antibodies against them. They collected bacteria samples from the surface of the bowel during patient colonoscopies and were able to go through a process to separate the bacteria that were coated with antibodies from those that did not have antibodies. Through further testing, they isolated the specific potentially disease-causing bacteria. "It's kind of like fishing in the ocean for one specific fish. Previously, the focus has been mostly on spreading a very wide net and capturing everything that is there. But finding the needle in the haystack and pulling the one that is guilty in this whole process has always been a challenge," he says.

The impact of Wine's research means screening may become easier for patients who have IBD or who are at risk of developing the disease. Physicians could look for the specific bacteria that might be fueling IBD. Taking this a step further, if the specific bacteria is discovered in a patient, the bacteria could be removed and this would help in treating or preventing flare ups of the disease.

What Wine is really excited about is the potential for identifying different methods of changing these bacteria. "For many reasons, such as an immune system that develops in a negative way, the gut environment becomes hostile. Certain microbes will take advantage of that and can further fuel the inflammation. So if we can figure out which bacteria are involved in the process, we could try and change the conditions that allow those bacteria to develop," he explains.

Wine is hoping to use the identified bacteria to help guide researchers further in developing specific diets that would benefit patients. Currently, most treatments will suppress the immune response more broadly. "We would prefer not to fiddle around with the immune system if we can, but rather go to the source of the problem which is the gut environment and the bacteria," he says.

He credits the patients and Heather Armstrong, a postdoctoral fellow in his lab, for advancing this research. "She's the one who did most of this work and is continuing to be a leader and a rising star in this field," says Wine. "I would really like to thank my patients and their families for their willingness to participate in this research because without that, we wouldn't be able to ask these questions in humans. I hope I will be able to offer my patients a new solution once we get through the steps of research and bring it back as a toolkit for how we treat our patients."

Wine will be continuing this research over the next five years thanks to a $2 million Canadian Institutes of Health Research team grant. The project will test if certain diets can starve the harmful bacteria, if new drugs can either kill, or flush away these bacteria, or if there are specific beneficial bacteria patients can be given in their food.