Genetically modified probiotic may treat pulmonary hypertension

ORLANDO, Fla., Sept. 15 (UPI) — Genetically modifying a probiotic may open a new method for treating pulmonary hypertension, according to recent animal experiments.

Researchers at the University of Florida found altering a strain of Lactobacillus allowed them to reduce the effects of the condition in rats, including a reduction in heart wall thickness, lowered blood pressure and improved heart performance.

Pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in the lungs, requires the heart to work harder to pump blood from the organ through the arteries of the lungs, putting strain on the arteries and the right side of the heart.

In a study presented today at the American Heart Association’s Council on Hypertension 2016, the researchers showed their method of delivering the peptide Angiotensin-(1-7) using a probiotic bacteria that produces it is feasible.

“It is known that the peptide Angiotensin-(1-7) is beneficial for the treatment of pulmonary hypertension in animal experiments,” Colleen Cole Jeffrey, a graduate research assistant in the department of physiology and functional genomics at the University of Florida, said in a press release. “But taking this peptide orally hasn’t been effective because it’s easily degraded in the stomach.”

The researchers genetically engineered a strain of Lactobacillus to express and secrete Angiotensin-(1-7) as a method of getting around its breakdown in the stomach, testing it in rats with pulmonary hypertension.

For the experiment, the researchers measured thickness of the rodents’ heart walls, ability of their hearts to contract and systolic blood pressure in the right side of the heart, finding they all had indicators for pulmonary hypertension.

After treating some of the animals orally with the probiotic every other day for four weeks, the researchers found those receiving the Lactobacillus strain had a 43 percent reduction in blood pressure, 33 percent reduction in heart wall thickness and “significant” improvement in heart contractility.

“Certainly, there is still much more work to be done,” said Dr. Mohan Raizada, a biomedical researcher at the University of Florida and lead researcher on the study. “But if our animal data holds true in clinical trials, probiotic consumption, as well as the use of genetically-modified probiotics, may emerge as a novel therapeutic approach for pulmonary hypertension therapy — either as standalone treatment or in conjunction with other medical therapies.”