“Leaky gut” refers to a condition in which microbes and other molecules seep out of the intestines. Studies show that the condition may be more common and more harmful than previously thought, and may lead to a variety of ills.
Leaky gut is common in older people, patients with cancers or other chronic ailments, and people with especially stressful lifestyles. The condition can trigger immune responses, contributing to diseases driven by chronic inflammation, such as inflammatory bowel disease, dementia, atherosclerosis, liver fibrosis, cancers, diabetes and arthritis.
However, there isn’t a good way for doctors to diagnose leaky gut, and there are no treatments to fix it.
Good news is that researchers in University of California San Diego School of Medicine have successfully simulated leaky gut conditions, which is the first time in history. They used 3-D models of human intestines generated from patient cells to form small organoids, or “mini-guts”.
The model helps define what a leaky gut looks like – molecular signals that could one day help clinicians better diagnose the condition, track its progression and evaluate the success or failure of treatment.
The team also used the model to explore a potential pathway for tightening leak guts with a common, available medication.
With the model, researchers discovered that the pathway keeping the gut lining intact begins to break down with aging and as colorectal tumors develop. However, they also found that the pathway can be restored by the diabetes drug metformin activating AMPK, and enzyme that plays a key role in the pathway.
Lots of research is done in mice that are inbred and genetically identical, all in the same cage, eating the same diet in order to remove variables from the studies, but real patients can be much more variable than lab mice. The researchers still need to look into more varieties to overcome the limitation.
The researchers are planning to take a closer look at the diseases driven by leaky gut. They also plan to test various ways to tighten junctions in the context of aging, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer and other conditions to see if they can reduce or prevent initiation and progression of these diseases.