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Friday, August 10, 2018, 00:26
CUHK looks to develop obesity treatment using gut bacteria
By Honey Tsang
Friday, August 10, 2018, 00:26 By Honey Tsang

The Faculty of Medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong established Asia's first microbiota transplantation and research center. (From left) Professor Paul Chan Kay-sheung, chairman of the Department of Microbiology; Professor Ng Siew-chien, professor of the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics; and Professor Francis K.L. Chan, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at CUHK. (Provided to China Daily)

HONG KONG — The Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Medicine says it is studying the use of microbiota transplantation – the transfer of fecal bacteria from a healthy to a diseased person – to treat obese patients with type 2 diabetes.

Recent evidence suggests that imbalance in the gut microbiota can lead to many human diseases

Chan Ka-leung,

Dean, Faculty of Medicine, City University of Hong Kong

CUHK is also seeking to develop other new treatments using the process, Chan Ka-leung, dean of the faculty, said on Thursday. Chan was announcing the opening of the university’s Microbiota Transplantation and Research Centre - the first of its kind in Asia.

“Recent evidence suggests that imbalance in the gut microbiota can lead to many human diseases,” added Chan.

Having established the center, “we will now expand research in microbiota transplantation to other conditions such as obesity and metabolic syndrome’’, he said.

The faculty opened a gut microbiota bank in March 2016 – also the first of its kind. This is to provide quality-assured frozen microbiota solutions for transplantation.  

Chan compares gut microbiota to a fingerprint. Different individuals have their own, unique set of microorganism populations residing in their intestines. “A balanced population of microorganisms in the gut can enhance health,” Chan said. “Conversely, an imbalanced gut microbiota will debilitate our health.”

From February 2017 until now, the team has facilitated over 80 microbiota transplantations. Of these cases, some were dangerous, potentially fatal large intestine infections such as Clostridium difficile (C difficile). Some even showed no response to medication, explained Chan Kay-sheung, chairman of the Department of Microbiology at CUHK.

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“But all patients recovered at the end, after undergoing the fecal microbiota transplantation.” he explained. 

In a pilot study, the researchers used fecal microbiota transplantation in obese patients with type 2 diabetes. The recipients were infused with a purified fecal matter collected from a lean individual once a month for four consecutive months. Forty percent of them lost 8 kg, on average.

Previous studies note that gut microbiota is remarkably distinct between obese and people with normal weight levels, Ng said. The team has targeted several microorganisms that cause hunger, changes in appetite or over-absorption of nutrients in the gut. These are the factors attributed to weight gain, Ng said.

“Gut microbiota transplantation works as if we substituted the bad soil with the good one in a forest. Obese people can lose weight by revamping the overall dynamics in their digestive tract."

Every person has 100 trillion bacteria in the gut. This is 10 times the total number of cells in our bodies. Scientists have been studying gut microbiota for many years to find new ways to treat diseases.

Currently, the team aims to recruit 60 more obese adults into the study. By examining a larger pool of patient data, a more comprehensive conclusion of FMT’s role in losing weight will be made, the researcher said.

The team hopes FMT can reduce obesity in Hong Kong — which afflicts four out of 10 adults.

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