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Researchers aim to decode intestinal dangers of microcystin


Research aiming to study microcystin has increased throughout the world in order to better understand its toxic effects within the body.

Every year, harmful algal blooms contaminate the waters of our very own Lake Erie, as well as other freshwater environments around the world. In fact, harmful algal blooms have affected every region of the United States and are growing in frequency all over the world. Currently, over 40 percent of lakes and reservoirs in Europe, Asia, and America have the right conditions for algal blooms.

Algal blooms contain blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, which produce a potent toxin called microcystin. Every summer, public warnings are given throughout the nation urging people to avoid contact with waters containing microcystin. In 2014, microcystin levels in Lake Erie reached such a high level that the water supply to roughly 500,000 residents in the Toledo area was shut down for nearly three days.

The fact that microcystin has harmful effects within the liver is now well established. Microcystin liver toxicity in humans has been reported around the world, with one of the most notable events occurring in 1996, where 116 of 130 patients at a dialysis center in Brazil experienced acute liver failure and death after exposure to dialysis solution contaminated with microcystin.

The effects of microcystin within organs other than the liver have not been well investigated in the past. Therefore, I am currently investigating microcystin’s effects within the gastrointestinal track. My focus on this organ is because microcystin is normally ingested from contaminated water and is subsequently absorbed into the body through the gastrointestinal track.

Our initial studies have shown that microcystin has very limited effects within the intestines in healthy animal models. While these results were encouraging, we wanted to also investigate microcystin’s effects in unhealthy conditions as well, as a large part of the world population suffers from diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.

We focused our attention on inflammatory bowel disease, which causes damaging inflammation to the gastrointestinal tract, and includes diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Inflammatory bowel disease is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders around the world, affecting over 3 million people in the US alone.

Interestingly, while microcystin has limited effects in healthy animal models, we found that microcystin has significant toxic effects in a model of inflammatory bowel disease.

We discovered that microcystin worsened several markers of inflammation that characterize inflammatory bowel disease, increased the ulceration seen in inflammatory bowel disease, and heightened the overall disease state of inflammatory bowel disease.

These results suggest that people with inflammatory bowel disease may be more vulnerable to the toxic effects of microcystin than healthy people.

Read full article by Robin Su here.

Posted on: November 7 2019

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