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Researchers have designed carbon beads that may help improve gut and liver health. d3sign/Getty Images

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  • Innovative carbon beads developed by researchers at UCL could one day become a new method of treating diseases linked to poor gut health, such as liver cirrhosis, which affects millions worldwide.
  • New research has revealed that these beads, capable of absorbing harmful bacteria and toxins, significantly improved gut, liver, kidney, and brain health in animal models and showed potential for human application.
  • Further research is needed, however, these beads may represent a promising step forward in addressing the issues associated with gut microbiota imbalances.

The study, published in Gut, indicates that these beads, now licensed to UCL-spinout Yaqrit, successfully improved gut, liver, kidney, and brain health in rats and mice, and were deemed safe for human application.

Globally, approximately 112 million individuals are living with liver cirrhosis.

The significant role of the gut microbiota in overall health is only now being fully recognized.

An imbalance in the microbiota can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, impacting the bacteria that benefit and maintain gut health.

Harmful bacteria impact the gut environment by secreting endotoxins, toxic metabolites, and cytokines, which create conditions favorable for their growth.

These substances, especially endotoxins, can provoke inflammation and increase the permeability of the gut wall, leading to damage in other organs like the liver, kidneys, and brain.

In cases of cirrhosis, a disease marked by liver scarring, endotoxin-induced inflammation is known to worsen liver damage.

Antibiotics are a common part of cirrhosis treatment to manage harmful bacteria but pose risks of antibiotic resistance and are typically reserved for advanced stages of the disease.

To address these challenges, UCL researchers, in partnership with Yaqrit, have developed tiny oral carbon beads.

These beads are engineered with a unique microscopic structure that enables them to adsorb both large and small molecules within the gut.

In their study, UCL researchers examined the efficacy of carbon beads, branded as Carbalive™, in promoting gut health and their effects on liver, kidney, and brain function in rats and mice.

The findings indicated that daily ingestion of the beads over several weeks halted the advancement of liver scarring and injury in animal models with cirrhosis and decreased mortality in those with acute-on-chronic liver failure (ACLF).

The beads were also evaluated in a clinical trial involving 28 patients with cirrhosis. The researchers found that the beads were safe and caused minimal side effects.

Should these beads demonstrate the same benefits in humans as seen in animal models, they could represent a significant advancement in treating liver diseases.

The beads function by absorbing endotoxins and other harmful metabolites from ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut. This action supports a healthier environment for beneficial bacteria to thrive, thereby helping to restore the health of the microbiome.

By doing so, the beads prevent these toxins from spreading to other parts of the body and causing damage, as observed in conditions like cirrhosis.

The results from the initial studies have paved the way for additional clinical trials to assess the effectiveness of the carbon beads in humans, with one such trial set to begin shortly.

Further research will test whether these benefits extend to humans, potentially leading to new treatments for diseases associated with poor gut health.

Two experts, who were not involved in this research, spoke to Medical News Today.

Nathan Price, PhD, chief scientific officer of Thorne, told MNT that although the research is in its early stages and needs more validation, “the work is promising.”

“Yaq-001 represents a promising new approach to preventing the progression of liver damage and complications in cirrhosis patients, a significant unmet medical need,” Price explained.

“Unlike antibiotics, which can disrupt the gut microbiome and promote drug resistance, Yaq-001 selectively removes harmful bacterial products without killing the beneficial bacteria themselves. This targeted mechanism protects against the damaging effects of bacterial toxins while preserving the health of the gut. Such approaches are really important because we want to have interventions that leave as much of what is health-producing as possible.”
— Nathan Price, PhD

Lena Bakovic, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian specializing in chronic disease, weight management, gut health, oncology, and general health and wellness said, “The results of this study are definitely thought-provoking and with further trials may eventually offer hope for a novel way of treating liver disease.”

“The presence of gut dysbiosis and inflammation both have negative implications for cirrhosis progression and eventual liver failure in humans.”

“It would appear that the results here show promising effects of Yaq-001 on progression of fibrosis, portal hypertension, cirrhosis, nutritional status, and mortality in animal models,” Bakovic explained.

“Of note to nutritional status, specifically, it appears that Yaq-001 in rodents was able to attenuate the catabolic effects of liver disease, with a positive influence on body weight and sarcopenia. If able to eventually translate to humans, this treatment may offer hope in attenuating malnutrition, which we know further complicates the clinical treatment and advancement of liver disease.”
— Lena Bakovic

Price noted that “the results from animal studies are encouraging, showing that Yaq-001 improved multiple markers of gut, liver, brain, and kidney health.”

“This suggests it could be a powerful tool for preventing serious complications in cirrhosis patients,” he added.

Bakovic agreed, saying, “further clinical trials to support the use of Yaq-001 in humans may eventually lead to approval for a novel treatment for gut dysbiosis, inflammation, and progression of liver disease.”

“One aspect to consider is that the microbiome of rodents is unalike to that of humans, which may potentially impact similar positive outcomes in human subjects,” said Bakovic.

“Conversely, [t]his trial was completed with human subjects in a double-blinded, randomized, and placebo-controlled format, and demonstrated promising safety/tolerability,” she pointed out.

Price agreed, saying, “If proven successful in larger trials, Yaq-001 could offer new hope to the millions worldwide suffering from cirrhosis by providing a targeted, microbiome-sparing treatment option to prevent disease progression and life threatening complications.”

“Importantly, a small human trial has already shown that Yaq-001 is safe and well-tolerated when taken orally by cirrhosis patients. This safety data, coupled with the promising results in animals, provides a strong foundation for moving forward with larger clinical trials to test its effectiveness.”
— Nathan Price, PhD