INL researchers are working on a novel approach to fight a common disease in pigs

August 31, 2023

The project APTAcoli aims the development of a novel approach to fight a common disease that affects young pigs – enteric colibacillosis. This disease is caused by certain strains of Escherichia coli that attach to the small intestine and produce harmful toxins. These toxins lead to diarrhoea, dehydration, and acidosis.

In the past, antibiotics were used to control the disease, but this practice is now banned in many countries. New strategies are needed to fight colibacillosis, and one promising approach is using aptamers, which are special molecules that can block the toxins and help the animals recover.

Aptamers are like “molecular keys” that can selectively bind to specific targets. They have advantages over antibiotics, such as specific action and easy synthesis. However, they can be unstable in the body. To address this, synthetic nucleic acid mimics (NAMs), can be used to increase stability.

INL researchers are working towards the development of new NAM-aptamers to block Escherichia coli toxins. To start, a selection process was performed to create NAM-aptamers specific to Escherichia coli toxins. Pablo Fuciños, who is leading this project in the Food Processing and Nutrition research group, adds “An encapsulation strategy is now being developed to protect the aptamers as they pass through the stomach and reach the intestine. The performance of these encapsulated aptamers will then be tested to assess their effectiveness in preventing cell damage caused by Escherichia coli infection.”