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Gold nanoclusters are being looked at as a potential treatment for IBD. Ekaterina Goncharova/Getty Images
  • Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic disorder that can be debilitating and significantly impact everyday life.
  • Treatment options for IBD focus on symptom relief and prevention.
  • Data from a new study reports that the oral administration of gold nanoclusters may be an effective treatment option for IBD.

C​hronic conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can be difficult to deal with, but treatments can help to prevent and control symptoms.

Research is ongoing about how to best treat IBD, which affects 3 million adults in the United States.

A​ recent study, published in the KeAi journal Fundamental Research, suggests that treatment using gold nanocluster technology may be an effective treatment to reduce and prevent symptoms of the disease.

Should further research confirm these findings, it could open a new pathway to treatment for people with IBD.

As the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes, inflammatory bowel disease (I​BD) is an umbrella term for two different disorders affecting the digestive tract: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both involve inflammation in the digestive tract that ultimately damages the body’s digestive system.

Dr. Max Pitman, a gastroenterologist and medical director at Salvo Health, explained to Medical News Today:

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two conditions that fall under the umbrella of IBD. There is a huge range of severity for these conditions. Some patients have mild symptoms of occasional diarrhea or urgency, and they might be treated only with suppositories for a few months. A small percentage of patients may only have one episode or flare-up of colitis in their whole life. On the other side, some people have much more severe symptoms of abdominal pain, bloody stool, weight loss, and anemia, and may have complications like abscesses, fistulae (abnormal connections or tracts that form between parts of the intestines), or bowel obstructions.

People with IBD can experience periods where symptoms flare up and periods of remission where symptoms become less severe.

People with IBD may use certain medications to reduce symptoms when flare-ups happen. Other medication options help to prevent flare-ups from happening.

What exactly causes IBD remains unknown.

However, people with IBD can have high levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are radicals containing oxygen.

Dr. Jeffrey Berinstein, a gastroenterology expert at Michigan Medicine, explained it this way to MNT:

“Interestingly, oxygen, which is an essential element for human life, can be converted into unstable and dangerous compounds called free radicals or reactive oxygen species. These reactive oxygen species can cause cell damage and death leading to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune disease such as IBD.”

Since high levels of ROS can cause damage to cells and activate inflammation, experts say removing ROS could be a key component in the treatment of IBD.

In addition, antioxidants can play a role in controlling ROS levels. Levels of these antioxidants are low among people with Crohn’s disease.

In the recent study, researchers wanted to look at a potential solution.

The researchers examined the use of gold nanoclusters, specifically ultrasmall Au25 nanoclusters, and how they would impact IBD. Researchers used mice and in vitro experiments in their data collection.

Mice with induced colitis received the Au25 nanoclusters by mouth and were then monitored using CT scans. The study authors reported several promising results from their data collection.

First, they found that the nanocluster treatment helped to eliminate ROS and increase the number of antioxidant enzymes. They also found the treatment reduced the level of proinflammatory cytokines to that of healthy colon tissue.

Finally, they reported that the treatment did not have obvious side effects.

They said the results demonstrate the potential therapeutic effects of these gold nanoclusters for IBD.

The study is part of exploring treatment options for IBD, but it is not without limitations.

For example, the study used mice and in vitro experiments, so some data is not directly applicable to people.

In addition, the study had a limited follow-up time, indicating that research with more long-term follow-up will be required.

Dr. Berinstein noted the following:

“A therapeutic that eliminated reactive oxygen species, such as the one described in this paper is exciting. Unfortunately, while this therapy demonstrated positive results in mice, it is very far from being used in humans and in clinical practice. However, pre-clinical research like this is essential for advancing our understanding and our ability to treat complex medical conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.”