Could carbon monoxide foam help fight inflammation? Foams that incorporate small amounts of the gas could be delivered to the GI tract to combat colitis and other conditions

Carbon monoxide is best known as a potentially deadly gas. However, in small doses it also has beneficial qualities: It has been shown to reduce inflammation and can help stimulate tissue regeneration.

A team of researchers led by MIT, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the University of Iowa, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has now devised a novel way to deliver carbon monoxide to the body while bypassing its potentially hazardous effects. Inspired by techniques used in molecular gastronomy, they were able to incorporate carbon monoxide into stable foams that can be delivered to the digestive tract.

In a study of mice, the researchers showed that these foams reduced inflammation of the colon and helped to reverse acute liver failure caused by acetaminophen overdose. The new technique, described today in a Science Translational Medicine paper, could also be used to deliver other therapeutic gases, the researchers say.

“The ability to deliver a gas opens up whole new opportunities of how we think of therapeutics. We generally don’t think of a gas as a therapeutic that you would take orally (or that could be administered rectally), so this offers an exciting new way to think about how we can help patients,” says Giovanni Traverso, the Karl van Tassel Career Development Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT and a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Traverso and Leo Otterbein, a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, are the senior authors of the paper. The lead authors are James Byrne, a physician-scientist and radiation oncologist at the University of Iowa (formerly a resident in the Mass General Brigham/Dana Farber Radiation Oncology Program), and a research affiliate at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research; David Gallo, a researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess; and Hannah Boyce, a research engineer at Brigham and Women’s.

Delivery by foam

Since the late 1990s, Otterbein has been studying the therapeutic effects of low doses of carbon monoxide. The gas has been shown to impart beneficial effects in preventing rejection of transplanted organs, reducing tumor growth, and modulating inflammation and acute tissue injury.

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