Prof. Raz Jelinek and Orit Malka with their unique probiotic yogurt (BGN Technologies/Dani Machlis) (BGN Technologies/Dani Machlis)
Raz Jelinek and Orit Malka

Ben Gurion University researchers discover that probiotic yogurt holds a key for treating various inflammatory conditions, including COVID-19 related cytokine storms.

By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University (BGU) in southern Israel have discovered that probiotic yogurt might be the new super-tool in the fight against inflammatory diseases like the coronavirus.

PhD student Orit Malka working under Prof. Raz Jelinek, Vice President and Dean for Research & Development at BGU, identified novel drug candidates based on molecules isolated from probiotic yogurt. These are used to combat pathogenic bacteria and for treating various inflammatory conditions, including COVID-19 related cytokine storms and also inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

So promising is the discovery that the university’s technology transfer company, BGN Technologies, established a startup company for the further development and commercialization of the technology.

It is well-known that probiotics help the body’s immune functions, affecting balanced microbial populations in the digestive system and potentially protecting the body against bacterial infections.

Malka and Jelinek used “kefir,” a fermented probiotic dairy drink made by inoculating milk with microorganism mixtures, particularly yeast and bacteria. They succeeded in isolating molecules in the kefir and showed that those molecules have significant potential to combat pathogenic bacteria.

At the start, the researchers demonstrated that the kefir-secreted molecules were good at fighting the bacteria that causes cholera. In a follow-up study, they observed that the isolated molecules had dramatic anti-inflammatory properties in various pathological conditions and disease models in the laboratory that helped to heal mice inflicted with lethal “cytokine storms” – the extreme immune response which is one of the main causes of death in COVID-19 patients.

The molecules not only eliminated the cytokine storm, but also restored balance to the immune system, an extraordinary feat pointing to significant therapeutic potential.

“Our research illuminates for the first time a mechanism by which milk fermented probiotics can protect against pathogenic infections and aid the immune system,” said Prof. Jelinek, adding that they are hoping to move soon from animal to human studies for patients who are experiencing a cytokine storm due to COVID-19 infection, or people suffering from Crohn’s disease.”

“In a reality where antibiotic-resistant bacteria are becoming an imminent threat, the novel molecules discovered by BGU scientists pave a completely new path for fighting bacterial infections by disrupting cell-cell communications in pathogenic bacteria,” said Josh Peleg, CEO of BGN. “Years of breakthrough research have now reached a validation point that led to the establishment of a biopharma company for the further development and clinical evaluation of this exciting new technology that can potentially revolutionize the treatment of bacterial infections as well as inflammatory conditions.”

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