‘Just like the COVID-19 ART test’: Thai professor develops new kit for testing gut microbiome

By Tingmin Koe contact

- Last updated on GMT

There is increasing attention to gut microbiome research these days. ©Getty Images
There is increasing attention to gut microbiome research these days. ©Getty Images

Related tags: Gut microbiome, diagnostics, Thailand

A Thai researcher has developed a test kit for measuring the gut microbiome bacteria which works in the same way as the now widely used antigen rapid test (ART) for detecting COVID-19.

The test kit, to be launched under the brand Probio ✓ (Probio Check) is customised to measure the amount of only a species of lactic acid bacteria.

For example, to measure the amount of Lactobacillus plantarum, ​one will need to purchase the test kit for testing this particular lactic acid bacteria. To measure the amount of Lactobacillus acidophilus, ​one will need to purchase another test kit specially designed to do so.

The idea is the brainchild of D. Krit Pongpirul, currently an assistant professor at the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, Faculty of Medicine at the Chulalongkorn University.

Thai firm Montara Hospitality Group has invested in the development of this test kit, the first of which will be commercialised in Thailand this year.

Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia, ​Dr. Pongpirul explained that the test kit would allow users to know the types of probiotics that they truly required.

“This test kit can be a frontline customer recruitment tool [for probiotics supplements]. If you are just curious about what bacteria you are lacking, why don’t you try the test kit to check it out first?

“Once you know the result, you may want to see the real clinician and then try to have more in-depth information on yourself."

Each test kit will show four lines: H, M, L, and C, which stands for ‘high’, ‘middle’, ‘low’, and ‘control’. 

Probio check
The Probio ✓ test kit

The C line will show up each time during the test and depending on the amount of lactic acid bacteria detected in the specimen, the second line will show up at either the H, M, or L line.

The test kit works via the antibody-based technology.

“The more antigen in the specimen, the more likely you get to the M or H level.

“I don’t think many people can copy this idea, because the most difficult part of the test kit is to find the appropriate antibody. It is quite difficult to get an antibody from a bacterium, it is not so simple,”​ he explained.

“And if you have many minor health concerns, you might also want to do the test to find out if you are lacking certain probiotics and then I can prescribe personalised probiotics to you or recommend a OTC product.”

Dr. Pongpirul has also developed a personalised probiotics dispenser machine which will be able to provide the specific types and dosage amounts of probiotics that a user need.

The machine makes the decision based on AI and new data is constantly feed into the AI platform to sharpen its reliability. 

Using the test kit

To use the kit, users will need to load their stool specimen into the test kit and add in the buffer solution. 

Just like the COVID-19 ART test kit, they will need to wait 15 minutes for the test kit to show the results.

"You just dilute the poo and use the dropper to drop the specimen into the test kit.

This can be done in a clinic or at home by the consumers, anywhere, it is just like the COVID-19 test kit,"​ he said. 

Twenty-three test kits

Dr. Pongpirul revealed that the first test kit that would be commercialised would be for measuring the amount of Lactobacillus plantarum.

We are aiming for the first test kit to be launched this year. The prototype is already done, but before that, we want to make sure that sensitivity and specificity is good enough to be commercialised,”​ he said.

Currently, the Thai FDA has approved 23 species of lactic acid bacteria for use in health supplements.

Thus, Dr. Pongpirul’s plan is to develop test kit for measuring all 23 species approved by the Thai FDA.

He has decided to first launch the kit for measuring Lactobacillus plantarum ​as he has managed to isolate and prove that a particular Lactobacillus plantarum ​Dfa1 strain from healthy individuals is able to lead to fat reduction in a mice study.  

Findings of the results were published in Nutrients, ​which showed that the strain has outperformed the Enterococcus faecium​ dfa1 strain in terms of reducing body weight, regional fat accumulation, serum cholesterol, inflammatory cytokines (in blood and colon tissue), and gut barrier defect.  

The Lactobacillus plantarum ​Dfa1 strain will be commercialised by his own company μbiopro (microbiopro) and Montara Hospitality Group is also an investor of this initiative.

Supported by the Thailand Research Fund, Dr. Pongpirul has previously embarked on the project titled "Comparative Microbiome Analysis for the Probiotics Development".

Through this project, he will continue to find out the health benefits of other bacteria strains found in healthy individuals for the intention of commercialising these strains.

Investors’ plans

The plan is to first introduce the test kit for luxury hotel visitors staying at Montara’s resort in Phuket as a premium wellness program.

“We plan to promote this approach as a wellness program in a luxurious resort. For customers who have bought the wellness package, we will check your gut microbiome in the first day of arrival.

“And then we can try to give you some probiotics and see if in the following two or three days whether your microbiome changes or not, so everything is done within a week when you are spending your time in the resort.”

Upcoming research

At the same time, he is planning to conduct a research on the Thai population to find out the types of bacteria that’s approved for use in supplements but are lacking in their gut microbiome.

In this way, he will be able to obtain results on the types of strains that have commercial potential. The research will use the nanopore technology instead of the traditionally used 16-rRNA sequencing.

“Not only do we get to know more about the most common probiotics that’s lacking, we can also set up a very good database across healthy and diseased individuals.

“I want to know whether the lack of a certain bacteria is seen across people with different health status. 

“This will help me prioritise which probiotic strain can go into the market first, I will start with the one that many people are lacking,” ​he said.   

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