Probiotics: From myth to reality. Demonstration of functionality in animal models of disease and in human clinical trials
The enteric flora comprise approximately 95% of the total number of cells in the human body and are capable of eliciting immune responses while also protecting against microbial pathogens. However, the resident bacterial flora of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) may also be implicated in the pathogenesis of several chronic conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The University College Cork-based Probiotic Research Group has successfully isolated and identified lactic acid bacteria (LAB) which exhibit beneficial probiotic traits. These characteristics include the demonstration of bile tolerance; acid resistance; adherence to host epithelial tissue; and in vitro antagonism of potentially-pathogenic micro-organisms or those which have been implicated in promoting inflammation. The primary objective of this report is to describe the strategy adopted for the selection of potentially effective probiotic bacteria. The study further describes the evaluation of two members of the resulting panel of micro-organisms (Lactobacillus salivarius subsp. salivarius UCC118 and Bifidobacterium longum infantis 35624) under in vitro conditions and throughout in vivo murine and human feeding trials. Specifically, an initial feeding study completed in Balb/c mice focused upon (i) effective delivery of the probiotic micro-organisms to the GIT and evaluation of the ability of the introduced strains to survive transit through, and possibly colonise, the murine GIT; (ii) accepting the complexity of the hostile GIT and faecal environments, development of a method of enumerating the introduced bacterial strains using conventional microbiological techniques; and (iii) assessment of the effects of administered bacterial strains on the numbers of specific recoverable indigenous bacteria in the murine GIT and faeces. Additional research, exploiting the availability of murine models of inflammatory bowel disease, demonstrated the beneficial effects of administering probiotic combinations of Lactobacillus salivarius UCC118 and Bifidobacterium longum infantis 35624 in prevention of illness-related weight loss. A further ethically-approved feeding trial, successfully conducted in 80 healthy volunteers, demonstrated that yoghurt can be used as a vehicle for delivery of Lactobacillus salivarius strain UCC118 to the human GIT with considerable efficacy in influencing gut flora and colonisation.