Objectives: Several probiotic compounds have shown promise in the therapy of ulcerative colitis (UC). However, a strong sustained benefit remains to be seen. Uncontrolled pilot studies suggest that a probiotic preparation (VSL#3) maintains remission in mild to moderate UC and reduces active inflammation in adult patients. Aims of our prospective, 1-year, placebo-controlled, double-blind study were to assess the efficacy of VSL#3 on induction and maintenance of remission and to evaluate the safety and tolerability of the probiotic preparation therapy in children with active UC.
Methods: A total of 29 consecutive patients (mean age: 9.8 years; range: 1.7-16.1 years; female/male: 13/16) with newly diagnosed UC were randomized to receive either VSL#3 (weight-based dose, range: 450-1,800 billion bacteria/day; n=14) or an identical placebo (n=15) in conjunction with concomitant steroid induction and mesalamine maintenance treatment. Children were prospectively evaluated at four time points: within 1 month, 2 months, 6 months, and 1 year after diagnosis or at the time of relapse. Lichtiger colitis activity index and a physician's global assessment were used to measure disease activity. At baseline, within 6 months and 12 months or at the time of relapse, all patients were assessed endoscopically and histologically.
Results: All 29 patients responded to the inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) induction therapy. Remission was achieved in 13 patients (92.8%) treated with VSL#3 and IBD therapy and in 4 patients (36.4%) treated with placebo and IBD therapy (P<0.001). Overall, 3 of 14 (21.4%) patients treated with VSL#3 and IBD therapy and 11 of 15 (73.3%) patients treated with placebo and IBD therapy relapsed within 1 year of follow-up (P=0.014; RR=0.32; CI=0.025-0.773; NNT=2). All 3 patients treated with VSL#3 and 6 of 11 (54.5%) patients treated with placebo relapsed within 6 months of diagnosis. At 6 months, 12 months, or at time of relapse, endoscopic and histological scores were significantly lower in the VSL#3 group than in the placebo group (P<0.05). There were no biochemical or clinical adverse events related to VSL#3.
Conclusions: This is the first pediatric, randomized, placebo-controlled trial that suggests the efficacy and safety of a highly concentrated mixture of probiotic bacterial strains (VSL#3) in active UC and demonstrates its role in maintenance of remission.