Inflammation of the intestine is a feature of many serious bowel disorders. These disorders can range from relatively mild conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome through to the so far incurable inflammatory bowel diseases, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Indeed, left untreated, the chronic inflammation that typifies the inflammatory bowel diseases can eventually result in the development of colon cancer; a very serious condition indeed. Inflammation of the intestine is not restricted to these conditions as it can also manifest as a side-effect of chemotherapy and radiotherapy (termed mucositis), administered for the treatment of a wide range of cancers. Currently, many of the anti-inflammatory medications available are unsatisfactory; and in many cases ineffective, often themselves resulting in unpleasant side-effects. New treatment strategies are therefore required.

For many centuries, Indigenous Australians have exploited the therapeutic properties of Emu Oil, derived from fat stores in the abdomen of the Emu, a flightless bird (ratite) native to Australia. Emu Oil has been used historically to treat burns and wounds. However, only in recent years has it been subjected to more rigorous scientific scrutiny for its purported medicinal properties. In 2010, a group of Adelaide University researchers, led by Professor Gordon Howarth, revealed that Emu Oil was able to reduce inflammation of the intestine in an experimental model of mucositis induced by the commonly-prescribed chemotherapy drug, 5-Fluorouracil (1). Subsequently, further research conducted by Dr Suzanne Mashtoub at Adelaide’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital Gastroenterology Department, revealed that Emu Oil was able to promote repair of the damaged intestine after chemotherapy (2). This research supports a potential role for Emu Oil in cancer treatment. Suzanne is currently pursuing this avenue of research as one component of her NHMRC Doherty Biomedical Research Fellowship; supported by a research grant from the West Australian Cancer Council.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) commonly has its onset during the adolescent years. However, its cause is unknown and it has a life-long prevalence. In many cases, IBD-sufferers may require a complete large bowel resection, with life-long dependency on a colostomy bag.

In her experimental studies, Suzanne was able to demonstrate reduced inflammation of the large bowel following Emu Oil treatment in an experimental model of acute ulcerative colitis; one of the more serious forms of IBD (3).In her proposed studies, Suzanne intends extending this strategy to the more common, chronic form of ulcerative colitis. It is hoped that Emu Oil treatment will ‘dampen down’ the chronic intestinal inflammation, thereby improving quality of life and subsequently reducing the risk of developing colon cancer.

Suzanne is also exploring Emu Oil therapy for other intestinal diseases which have an inflammatory component. For example, she has been able to demonstrate that Emu Oil can reduce inflammation to the intestine caused by ingestion of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (4). This condition, known as NSAID-enteropathy, often manifests in individuals who are ingesting NSAIDs, such as aspirin, for either the relief of arthritis symptoms or for blood thinning purposes.

With the support of the Trevor Prescott Freemason’s Foundation, Suzanne recently presented her research on Emu Oil at two international conferences in the United States. Suzanne is currently undertaking a research placement at the University of Illinois where she is learning new ‘state-of-the-art’ techniques that will be applied to her prospective studies on Emu Oil and its potential to protect the bowel from the development of chronic colitis and colon cancer.

Project conducted by Dr Suzanne Mashtoub PHD.
Prepared by Professor Gordon Howarth (May 21st, 2014).

References

1. RJ Lindsay, MS Geier, RN Butler, KA Lymn, R Yazbeck and GS Howarth. Oral administration of emu oil decreases acute inflammation and improves selected parameters of small intestinal integrity in a rat model of mucositis. Br J Nutr. 104(4): 513-9 (2010).

2. SM Abimosleh, CD Tran and GS Howarth. Emu Oil Expedites Small Intestinal Repair Following 5-Fluorouracil-Induced Mucositis
in Rats. Exp Biol Med. 238(11):1305-1317 (2013).
3. SM Abimosleh, RJ Lindsay, RN Butler, AG Cummins and GS Howarth. Emu Oil Increases Crypt Depth in a Rat Model of Colitis. Dig Dis Sci. 57(4):887-96 (2012).

4. SM Abimosleh, CD Tran and GS Howarth. Emu Oil Reduces Small Intestinal Inflammation in the Absence of Clinical Improvement in a Rat Model of Indomethacin-Induced Enteropathy. Evidence-Based Comp Alt Med. ID 429706. doi.10.1155/2013/429706 (2013)