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Saturday, April 1, 2023

Academics & Research

Gut bacteria could control prescription dosing

Josić and Ott’s research into control systems for bacteria could give medical practitioners the chance to directly control dosing. | Isabel Pen/The Cougar

Imagine a future where instead of taking medicine every morning, a colony of bacteria living within one’s gut can produce the precise dose of a prescription drug.

Professor Krešimir Josić is using mathematics to aid in a National Institutes for Health-funded project that is designing control systems to be used in the future to do just that.

“We want to give control to physicians,” said the project’s primary investigator Matthew Bennett, associate professor of biosciences at Rice University. “If we’re going to deal with prescription medications that could be dangerous, you don’t want to just drink a bunch of bacteria and have medication all over the place.”

“We want to be able to control when that medication turns on and off and that’s what these control systems are for,” Bennett said. “That’s what we’re trying to engineer.”

Josić is exploring how to implement such technology in bacteria by utilizing their genome in a way similar to how computers work. Because of the many unpredictable variables that can affect the way bacteria can express their genome, Josić is taking a synthetic approach and using mathematical models to best simulate the logic gates he hopes to regulate.

“Sometimes you want to analyze these different components in isolation and mathematical models allow you to do that,” Josić said.

The project could revolutionize the way medicine is prescribed and administered, Josić said. Josić’s component of the project deals with the most preliminary stages of a change this big.

“We’re working on this project in a general way right now,” said associate mathematics professor William Ott, who is working closely with Josić on the project. “One of the things the grant does is it tries to see the extent to which you can make logic gates out of engineered bacteria.”

Since the logic gates used are the exact analog of the kind that are in digital processors, the new technology could give medical practitioners precise control over dosing, Ott said.

Because the applications are so far-reaching, controllable, drug-producing bacteria could be used in several fields of medicine — from regulating the microbiome to stopping cancer in it’s tracks, Josić said.

“Bacteria can predominantly reside in the vicinity of a particular organ or tumor so that the expression of the drug can be more targeted and local,” Josić said. “If these bacteria populate a particular region in which the drug delivery is necessary, then by turning on the bacteria, the concentration of the drug would be highest right where you need it.”

In light of the recent opioid epidemic, the logic gates Josić and Ott are helping to design might be used to provide the world with a means of drug distribution that could curtail prescription drug abuse.

“If I take an Advil because my knee hurts and the NSAID kicks on right away, I start getting relief soon after I take the drug,” Ott said. “But I have no control over what my body does after I take the pill. But imagine now, you could take medication in a way where it sits dormant in your gut and you could turn it on when you need it.”

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