Milk extract may ease symptoms of Crohn’s disease and colitis

Supermarkets could soon sell yogurt, milkshake powders and other products aimed at providing relief to the millions of people suffering from Crohn’s disease or colitis.

An Israeli startup is preparing for clinical trials of a natural supplement derived from cow’s milk that would reduce inflammation and reduce patients’ dependence on prescription drugs.

Scientists now know that breast milk contains exosomes, tiny microRNA capsules – the molecules that regulate protein production in their bodies – that fight inflammation and other symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). ) such as Crohn’s disease and colitis.

Extracting these exosomes from breast milk would clearly not be a practical commercial endeavor, but the exosomes found in cow’s milk are remarkably similar.

And Exosomm, a biotech startup, has developed a unique method to extract these exosomes and harness their healing powers by adding them in powder form to foods.

“The milk of all mammals – whether a human mother and her newborn or a cow and her calf – contains ingredients that improve the function of the offspring’s cells,” explains Netta Granot, CEO of the company.

“We basically isolate these ingredients from milk very gently and naturally so that we can retain their bioactivity, and concentrate them, creating an ingredient that can be added to food. It can be yogurt, powdered milkshake or any other dairy product.

Food as medicine

Exosomm was founded by researchers at the Pediatric Gastroenterology Center at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem. The company aims to be the first in the world to sell food products enriched with milk exosomes.

Research at the Exosomm laboratory in Israel. Photo courtesy of Exosomm

Milk-derived exosomes (MDEs) will push the boundaries of “food as medicine,” such as adding probiotics to yogurt, folic acid to wheat flour, or vitamin D to margarine.

Exosome extraction technology to treat Crohn’s disease and colitis could now be adapted for a range of other inflammatory conditions, says Granot, from type 2 diabetes and asthma to lung and cardiovascular disease.

But the company’s main challenge, at the moment, is IBD. The researchers first administered the MDEs to mice suffering from gastric inflammation and found that their symptoms were significantly reduced.

Typical symptoms of inflammation in the gut were reduced by 90 percent in mice fed MDE, and there was a 70 percent reduction in genes that cause excessive autoimmune inflammation.

“Essentially, our results indicate that milk exosomes have the potential to naturally and safely attenuate inflammation in the human body, thereby significantly improving the quality of life for many people,” says Granot.

“This level of effective reduction in inflammation predicts a dramatic change for the better for patients with Crohn’s disease and colitis, without negative side effects,” she says.

Upcoming clinical trial

The next step will be clinical trials, which will be led by Professor Shimon Reif, co-founder of Exosomm and head of pediatrics at Hadassah, to ensure that the exosomes are safe for human consumption.

“The initial clinical trial will involve approximately 30 healthy individuals and will be conducted in collaboration with Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. The product will be taken in the form of a powder to dissolve in water,” explains Granot.

The MDEs they use will be isolated from whey, a byproduct of the cheese-making process that is naturally extracted after the milk has curdled and drained.

Through a strategic partnership with Tnuva, Israel’s largest food company, exosomes will be extracted from milk processed in Tnuva factories.

Extracting exosomes from whey, a byproduct of the cheese-making process.  Photo courtesy of Exosomm

Typically, exosomes travel through the bloodstream and provide instructions to cells on how to repair tissues, regulate the immune system, and maintain overall health. Exosomm’s MDEs have an outer membrane that can withstand high acidity in the intestinal tract, so the message they carry remains intact until it reaches its destination.

“The capsules have a unique mechanism, protecting their precious cargo of sensitive proteins and microRNAs until they reach the intestine, at which point they are activated,” explains Granot.

A new era?

Currently, IBD patients are often prescribed steroids or biologics, derived from living cells and grown in a laboratory.

Both types of medications can be effective, but have notable drawbacks.

They can weaken the immune system and cause gastrointestinal problems, including nausea, diarrhea and stomach cramps.

They can also compromise bone health (osteoporosis) and cause a range of other side effects. And in up to 40% of patients, these medications become less effective over time.

Exosomm claims its product – which is a dietary supplement and not a medicine – can allow IBD patients to control their symptoms during remission without the need for prescription medication.

Granot says what his company has developed is unique and at the forefront of “the new era of therapeutic food.”

It is “an anti-inflammatory ingredient, but nutritional rather than pharmacological.”

Exosomm hopes to make the product – also called Exosomm – available to customers in early 2025.

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