A Sea Change in IBD Treatment?

A Florida immunologist and macrophage biologist recently received a substantial grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate a possible role for chitin, an abundant component of shrimp, crab and lobster shells, in treating inflammatory bowel disease.

Yoshimi Shibata, PhD, professor of biomedical science at the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine of Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton, has spent more than 20 years studying macrophages, an element of white blood cells that phagocytize bacteria. They also consume certain carbohydrates. Over the course of his career, Dr. Shibata has screened many carbohydrates in search of those that would appeal to macrophages.

“I found that only chitin could stimulate macrophage activation by phagocytosis. This results in the production of very unique inflammatory mediators,” he said.

To isolate these specific carbohydrates, Dr. Shibata and his colleagues removed the calcium and protein from crustacean shells. The remaining chitin microparticles are known as mimetic microbes; macrophages cannot discriminate between them and bacteria.

“We can make many other forms of chitin, but only this form induces macrophage activation,” he said. “And we can make this form easily.” The form they developed is an orally administered dietary supplement.

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