Written by: Bonnie Feldman, DDS, MBA, Becca Malizia, BS, Ellen M. Martin
Sometimes creative thinkers find inspiration in the most unusual places. While interviewing Dr. Josep Bassaganya-Riera, I found out that his work in nutritional and computational immunology started when he was training as a veterinarian in Spain. “Watching pigs die from infection and poor nutrition after being overloaded with antibiotics gave me the insight that nutrition could be critically important in immunology” and so his journey to nutritional immunology began.
After completing his veterinary degree, he moved to the US to pursue a PhD in nutrition and in Immunology. It was here that Dr. Bassaganya-Riera began to shape his vision on how nutritional immunology might help with autoimmune diseases such as IBD. Dr. Bassaganya-Riera sees “autoimmunity as a spectrum”, where the individual disease profiles may share an underlying cause while showing different clinical manifestations. With this in mind, he wants to harness his research to find ways to improve care for autoimmune patients. His Ted talk begins with him asking a few questions: “How many of us have rejected, shunned, or ignored medications, just because the treatment is worse than the disease? How many of us have taken anti-inflammatories to come to the realization that the side effects are as bad as the disease symptoms?” He highlights a fantastic point- that autoimmune patients desperately need better options!
Of the 1.6 million people in the US and 4 million people worldwide suffering from IBD, current medications are only 40-60% effective (1). Even worse, the side effects of these medications are variable, but can be extremely detrimental, leading to infection, cancer and sometimes even death. Even when these medications work, they are incredibly expensive, costing $50,000 per patient every year (1).
Since the start of his NIMML lab (nutritional immunology & molecular medicine laboratory) at Virginia Tech in 2000, Dr. Bassaganya-Riera has been addressing these problems by putting together multidisciplinary teams of immunologists, biochemists, microbiologists, engineers, computer scientists and mathematicians “to create computational models to solve big problems.”
As a pioneer in this field, the NIMML lab’s mission is to understand how diet and nutritional factors influence the immune responses, thereby regulating health and disease (2).
A wise man once said, “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.”
-Hippocrates 460 BC.
Although many people today have forgotten the embedded medical and health benefits in food, the study of nutritional immunology has not. Focusing on the balance of the body’s immune system, microbiome and metabolism, nutritional immunologist understand that all these are influenced by the food we eat. In his Ted Talk, Dr. Bassaganya-Riera explains that when this balanced system is dysregulated in any part, disease can occur.
Bassaganya-Riera is a serial entrepreneur and has started three commercial ventures in order to make real products for real patients– one in classic drug discovery and one in functional foods.
Expanding into a Drug Development Company
Dr. Bassaganya-Riera at Landos Biopharma is using computational methods to radically reform the drug development process. He does this by using avatars to model how we can predict the clinical effectiveness of drugs. They are developing a new drug for IBD patients called BT-11, that is going through FDA approval, which they have shown in IBD mice to be up to 90% effective (1).
Here you can see an image of the gut lining in mice. On the left, a mouse with IBD that has not been treated, showing increased inflammation; and on the right is a mouse with IBD that has been treated with the BT-11 drug, whose gut lining is no longer inflamed (1).
This novel drug has been shown to be safe, while still acting as a powerful anti-inflammatory (1). It targets Lanthionine Synthetase C-Like 2 (LANCL2), which results in decreasing proinflammatory markers, and increasing anti-inflammatory markers. The BT-11 drug is currently awaiting FDA approval, and offers new hope for those 4 million people suffering from IBD worldwide!
While we are excitedly waiting for the BT-11 drug to hit the market, Dr. Bassaganya-Riera is behind a revolutionary functional drink that could help you with your autoimmune and gut symptoms, and is available right now!
Creating a Functional Food Company
Pervida, designed by Dr. Bassaganya-Riera’s diverse team doing nutritional immunological research, is a beverage intended for optimal immune function and gut health. It is backed by science researching pomegranate fruit as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiobesity, and antitumoral agent (3).
Pomegranate seed oil is made of triglycerides, unsaturated fatty acids with high levels of conjugated linolenic acids such as punicic acid. It has been suggested that the lower rates of inflammatory diseases in the Middle East and Asian populations are associated with a higher intake of these conjugated fatty acids, of which CLA is perhaps the best known (4).
There are also important interactions between components of the pomegranate with the gut microbiome. These pomegranate components and byproducts can inhibit the growth of pathogens such as Clostridia species, Staphylococcus aureus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, while increasing the growth of beneficial microbes like Bifidobacterium breve and Bifidobacterium infantis (3).
Pervida’s sparkling functional water comes in three tasty flavors: citrus, berry acai, and hawaiian blue ginger. They contain nutraceuticals, which are chemicals naturally found in plants and other organic matter that benefit health (Pervida). These drinks utilize nutritional immunological science to harvest nutraceuticals, creating a product rich in antioxidants and vitamins.
With the combination of two fields:
nutrition and immunology, Dr. Josep Bassaganya-Riera has brought new perspectives to bear on how various autoimmune diseases can be managed. Whether it’s Landos Biopharma’s development of new drug BT-11, or a fizzy drink like Pervida, both offer alternative solutions for IBD patients by targeting the gut microbiome to improve health!
Have you heard/used any other products that address symptoms of IBD? Let us know your experiences in the comments below!
- Learn more about these products in Dr. Josep Bassaganya-Riera’s fascinating Ted Talk here!
- Read more about food as medicine in our food blog Food Matters here!
- Landos Biopharma, Inc. Copyright 2018. Accessed 6 August 2018. https://landosbiopharma.com/products.
- NIMML. Nutritional Immunology & Molecular Medicine Laboratory. Copyright 2000. Accessed 6 August 2018. https://www.nimml.org/
- Viladomiu, M et al. “Preventive and Prophylactic Mechanisms of Action of Pomegranate Bioactive Constituents.” Hindawi Publishing Corporation. 2013. 18. Accessed 6 August 2018. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2013/789764/
- Coursodon-Boyiddle, C et al. “Pomegranate seed oil reduces intestinal damage in a rat model of necrotizing enterocolitis.” Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2012. 303. G744-G751. Accessed 6 August 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22821948