The heme oxygenase system as a therapeutic intervention for inflammatory bowel disease

Ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn disease (CD) are major chronic inflammatory bowel diseases affecting approximately 20,000 people in Ireland and an estimated 2.2 million individuals in Europe. Treatment with infliximab, corticosteroids and aminosalicylate-based compounds has been shown to suppress the generation of pathogenic immune cells in IBD, however long term use is associated with significant side effects and some patients are refractory to therapy. As a result, a number of studies are underway to identify new and alternative therapeutics. Recent studies have suggested that the administration of antioxidants with additional anti-inflammatory action may be beneficial for the treatment of IBD. We have been assessing the effects of specific naturally derived molecules which exhibit both activities. We have found that we can block the production or pro-inflammatory molecules by turning on a pathway which leads to the production of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant molecules called linear tetrapyrroles (LTPs). Interestingly, these molecules are also produced in large quantities by blue-green algae such as Spirulina platensis (also referred to as Spirulina, a commonly consumed dietary supplement). We have also identified a novel molecule produced by a parasite which acts to dampen immune responses. We propose to test these molecules along with other naturally derived anti-oxidant/anti-inflammatory molecules in blood cells and tissue biopsies from individuals suffering from IBD. Because these products are produced naturally they are likely to represent a safe and attractive treatment options for the prevention/treatment of IBD either alone or in conjunction with current immunosuppressives.


Award Date
29 June 2017
Award Value
Principal Investigator
Dr Aisling Dunne
Host Institution
Trinity College Dublin
Investigator Led Projects