Carbon beads help restore healthy gut microbiome and reduce liver disease progression, researchers find

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CARBALIVE pearls seen under a scanning electron microscope. Credit: University of Brighton/Yaqrit

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CARBALIVE pearls seen under a scanning electron microscope. Credit: University of Brighton/Yaqrit

Innovative carbon beads, invented by UCL researchers, reduce bad bacteria and inflammation in animal models, linked to liver cirrhosis and other serious health problems.

The study, published in Intestine, found that the carbon beads, licensed by UCL spinout Yaqrit, were effective in restoring gut health and had a positive impact on liver, kidney and brain function in rats and mice. They have also been found to be safe for human use.

The next step will be to see if the same benefits can be achieved in humans, which would pave the way for their use to treat diseases linked to poor gut health.

Worldwide, it is estimated that approximately 100 million people suffer from liver cirrhosis and 10 million suffer from cirrhosis with an additional complication.

Explaining current clinical challenges, lead author Professor Rajiv Jalan from the UCL Institute for Liver and Digestive Health said: “The influence of the gut microbiome on health is only just beginning to be fully appreciated. When the balance of the microbiome is disrupted, “bad” bacteria can proliferate and supplant the “good” bacteria that keep the intestine healthy.

“One way they do this is by excreting endotoxins, toxic metabolites and cytokines that transform the intestinal environment to make it more favorable and hostile to good bacteria. These substances, particularly endotoxins, can trigger intestinal inflammation and increase leakage of the intestinal wall, leading to damage to other organs such as the liver, kidneys and brain.

“In cirrhosis, a disease characterized by scarring of the liver, it is known that inflammation caused by endotoxins can exacerbate liver damage. Part of the standard treatment for cirrhosis is antibiotics to control bad bacteria , but this carries a risk of antibiotic resistance and is only used in advanced disease.

To overcome this problem, UCL scientists, in collaboration with Yaqrit, developed tiny oral carbon beads, which have a special microscopic physical structure designed to adsorb small and large molecules in the gut.

In this study, UCL researchers tested the effectiveness of carbon beads, known as the product CARBALIVE, in restoring gut health and assessed their impact on liver, kidney and brain function in rats and mice.

They found that when ingested daily for several weeks, the beads were effective in preventing the progression of scarring and liver damage in animals with cirrhosis, and in reducing mortality in animals with acute liver failure or chronic (ACLF).

The beads were also tested on 28 patients with cirrhosis and found to be safe with negligible side effects. If the same benefits seen in animal models occur in humans, the beads could provide an important new tool to help fight liver disease.

Michal Kowalski, Vice President and Head of CARBALIVE Products at Yaqrit, said: “These new carbon beads, which are swallowed and pass through the body unaltered, are smaller than a grain of salt.

“They work by absorbing endotoxins and other metabolites produced by “bad” bacteria in the gut, creating a better environment for good bacteria to flourish and helping to restore the health of the microbiome. This prevents these toxins from infiltrate into other areas of the body and cause damage, as is the case in cirrhosis.

“The results in animal models are very positive, with reduced intestinal permeability, liver damage as well as brain and kidney dysfunction.”

The results open the door to further trials to test the effectiveness of carbon beads in humans, one of which is expected to start soon. If the beads are found to be effective in stopping or slowing the progression of liver damage, they could be a valuable tool for treating liver disease and possibly other conditions associated with poor microbiome health.

Professor Jalan, Professor of Hepatology at UCL and Consultant at the Royal Free Hospital, added: “I have high hopes that the positive impact of these carbon beads in animal models will be seen in humans, which is exciting not only for the treatment of liver disease, but potentially any health problem caused or exacerbated by a gut microbiome that is not functioning as it should. This can include conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, for example, which is on the rise in many countries.

“The study is another important step in a journey that began at UCL and evolved into our spin-out Yaqrit, thanks to a grant from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. This allowed us to build a factory to make the pearls. and enabled exploratory research into their potential uses. I am optimistic that this journey will end with the approval of these beads to help treat liver disease and other conditions within the next few years.

More information:
Jinxia Lui et al. Clinical, experimental and pathophysiological effects of Yaq-001: a non-absorbable adsorbent restricted to the intestine in models and patients with cirrhosis, Intestine (2024). DOI: 10.1136/gutjnl-2023-330699

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