Ms. Katia Abdelouhab is an Assistant Lecturer in immunology and biochemistry at the Department of Biological Sciences in the University of Ferhat Abbas, Setif where she is also currently pursuing a doctoral degree focusing on immunopathology and immunotherapy. She previously worked as a Research Fellow at the University of Houari Boumediene in Algiers, within the Cytokines and NOSynthase group. Inspire Magazine spoke with Ms Abdelouhab to find out more about her paper which won the prize of the 2013 Algerian Paper of the Year Award in the category of Medicine, Pharmacy and Biological Sciences. The winning paper is entitled “Mucosal intestinal alteration in experimental colitis correlates with nitric oxide production by peritoneal macrophages: Effect of probiotics and prebiotics” and can be accessed here.
Inspire Magazine: Thank you for speaking to Inspire Magazine, and many congratulations for winning the 2013 Algerian Paper of the Year Award in Medicine, Pharmacy & Veterinary Sciences. How do you feel about winning this award?
Katia Abdelouhab: Thank you. I’m happy to have won this award. Selecting my paper is a good experience that will encourage me to contribute further to the algerian scientific output with more innovative results in my field. It was also nice to read about other winning candidates from varied parts of the country and different research backgrounds. I congratulate you for the good initiative and wish you success in your work and hope to see your initiative flourish in the future.
IM: Can you tell us what your award winning paper is about in simple terms?
Katia Abdelouhab: My paper is about the beneficial effects of probiotics and prebiotics in the treatment of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD), notably Ulcerative Colitis (UC). Probiotics are microorganisms which naturally co-exist with other bacteria. They are present in balanced amounts in a healthy human gut but in IBD patients their numbers decrease significantly. Prebiotics are sugar polymer components which enhance the activity and growth of probiotics. The paper introduces a new therapy method based on probiotics and/or prebiotics to treat inflammation of the gut in addition to traditional anti-inflammatory drugs. The method is innovative, still at its early trial stages and could possibly be the best natural treatment in the future for this disease.
IM: Why is this an important problem to address?
Katia Abdelouhab: IBD is spreading widely in Algeria, so developing effective therapies for the treatment of IBD is of major importance. There is a lack of accurate epidemiological studies and exact statistics of the spread of this disease in Algeria, but according to the clinical reports of the specialised doctors with whom we collaborate, we know that the prevalence of IBDs has increased in the last few years. Lack of awareness of the public could also aggravate this situation since many patients do not seek treatment in a timely manner.
Looking at the pathology of this disease, the gut bacteria is very important. Many studies have shown that different types of bacteria co-exist in the human gut. They are present within many layers in determined quantities. The rates at which the bacteria exist do vary slightly depending on diet, but the numbers are in favour of the “friendly” bacteria except for pathological cases such as diarrhea or IBD, where the balance is disrupted in favour of the “foes” i.e. pathogenic bacteria. Developing natural methods of therapy to restore this balance to a healthy ratio is now the focus of most research efforts in the medical and pharmaceutical industry. This is because of their high efficiency and, more importantly, their much reduced side effects.
IM: What is the exact contribution(s) of the paper to your field of research and how does it compare to other approaches that exist in the literature?
Katia Abdelouhab: The contribution of the paper in the field of medical sciences lies in the novel idea of using probiotics and prebiotics as a prophylactic treatment of Ulcerative Colitis. The study that we present in the paper examined the effect of probiotics and prebiotics in vivo animal samples. It demonstrated the correlation between nitric oxide production and the anti-inflammatory effect of probiotis and prebiotics. Nitric Oxide (NO) is a radical product of inflammatory processes and is used as an inflammation biomarker. It is a key component that is studied in our group and its role was demonstrated in many experiments.
The findings of our paper show that the amount of NO production in IBD was decreased by the use of probiotics and prebiotics, which suggests an anti-inflammatory effect. This was more so even when the probiotics/prebiotics were used together in a mixture.
IM: What kind of support, if any, have you received to help you accomplish this work?
Katia Abdelouhab: Unfortunately, the working circumstances in the university laboratories in Algeria are very difficult, due to the lack of financial support, organisation and guidance. Not only this project did not have a specific budget set for it, the supply of reagents, animals and other necessities for the experimental work were scarce and not well organised. Researchers often have to find their own means of securing what is necessary for their experimental work. This results in less work accomplished in the time frame provided. Sometimes work stops or deviates due to lack of equipment, materials and mainly reagents. There is a real logistics problem concerning ordering and delivery of reagents, we go through a very long wait and a lot of hassle to obtain the most basic stuff.
Having said that, my colleagues within the team or from other groups were always very helpful. This had created a good spirit of intellectual share and exchange, that encouraged us to work hard and show initiative despite the dire circumstances and which helped us produce original scientific results.
Hopefully, things will get better. At the moment, we have much hope and speculation from the various programs launched by the ANDRS (Agence National de la Recherche Scientifique) which do provide financial support to some projects where terms and conditions apply of course. However, not everybody can benefit from this limited support. Equally, some short term trainings are provided abroad (1 to 3 months) in order to finish chapters that could not be achieved due to lack of means in our labs. Again, not everybody is eligible for this training.
IM: How did you get into this particular research and where does it fit in relation to other work conducted in your research lab or institution?
Katia Abdelouahab: IBD is one of the main domains of our research. My thesis is entitled : “immunomodulatory effects of prebiotics and probiotics in experimental model of ulcerative colitis”. I have always been interested by immunopathology and I chose to do my postgraduate studies in this area of research to increase my knowledge and contribute to this fascinating field of research. I chose to pursue my postgraduate thesis within my group at the university of Houari Bouemdiene where in addition to many other themes of research such as cancer and genetics, the auto-immune diseases area has caught my attention.
IM: What is your take on the state of this type of research in Algeria? And how do you see it progressing in the future?
Katia Abdelouhab: I think it’s progressing and improving slowly despite the lack of financial means. However, there is still a lot to do. It will be interesting to increase the cooperation level between Algerian and international research laboratories, especially since algerian laboratories in many cases lack the necessary reagents and equipments needed for specific tests and experiments. Management, and training at universities in general needs a lot of work to improve but this is a different subject to discuss.
IM: Thank you again for speaking to Inspire Magazine, and all the best for your future endeavours.
Katia Abdelouahab: Thank you for interviewing me and for this award initiative. I would like also to thank my supervisor Pr. Touil-Boukoffa and wish a long life to inspire magazine.
[ Editor’s note: anasr.org launched the first edition of the Algerian Paper of the Year Awards in January 2013. A full report about this year’s edition of the awards, including a list of all winners can be found here. ]