Chitin may prevent, treat IBD

Chitin, an abundant polysaccharide found in crustacean shells and other organisms, may successfully treat inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis, and other inflammation-related disorders, according to research by Yoshimi Shibata, PhD, at Florida Atlantic University.

Shibata, an immunologist at Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at FAU, has been studying chitin for 10 years, and his work has involved testing carbohydrates that may induce macrophage activation.

“Our conclusion so far is that chitin is the only carbohydrate to induce macrophage activation, and only when we made bacteria-size particles. Chitin particles are quite unique,” he said in an interview with

According to Shibata’s research, chitin particles also are nonallergenic, nonimmunogenic, nontoxic and biodegradable. In a study, Shibata and colleagues wrote that other research showed that certain preparations of chitin induced cytotoxic macrophages and resistance to Escherichia coli.

A clinical trial is under way to determine if chitin supplementation reduces inflammation, and chitin microparticles have been shown to reduce the severity of colitis in mouse models.

Identifying the mechanisms behind IBD is a challenge for researchers, but Shibata hopes that he and colleagues will be able to learn more about what causes IBD.

“We don’t know why chitin microparticles activate macrophages,” Shibata said. “We don’t know exactly how that mechanism activates these complicated systems. There are probably a lot of receptors involved in this activation.”

Using a grant obtained through NIH and the National Institute of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Shibata and colleagues will study chitin and its interaction with intestinal microbiomes.

“Everybody who is interested in inflammation in the intestines cannot ignore intestinal bacteria,” he said. “More than 1,000 species have been identified, and we know just partially which are good and which are bad regarding human disease. Surprisingly, that good and bad bacteria balance is associated with inflammatory diseases such as IBD, asthma and other immune diseases as well as obesity. So we’d like to know what kind of a balance the bacteria of the intestine has when adding chitin microparticles and how the bacterial profile changes after treatment.”

While chitin supplements, and glucosamine, which Shibata said is an analog for chitin, are already on the market as over-the-counter supplements, FDA approval would be required to label the substance for use in treating IBD and other inflammatory conditions. -- By Shirley Pulawski

For more information:

Kamba A. Potential roles of chitin in mucosal inflammation. In: Méndez-Vilas A, ed. Microbial pathogens and strategies for combating them: science, technology and education. vol. 3. Badajoz, Spain: Formatex; 2013:1853-1863.

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.

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