killarney ireland mountains national park microbiome conference

Microbiome: Therapeutic Implications

The gut microbiome is integral to our mental and physical health. Certain autoimmune diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and type 1 diabetes, exhibit microbiomes that differ from those of healthy individuals.

As microbiome research steadily increases, a massive amount of data on the communities of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that inhabit our bodies is being collected. And not surprisingly, what we’re learning as we move forward is just how much we don’t know about these organisms and the complex ecosystems they’re a part of.

How do we harness what we do know to design successful therapies that prevent and manage disease, optimizing the health of our population?

This was one critical question explored by the brightest minds in microbiome research at the October 2019 Keystone Symposium in Killarney, Ireland. An interdisciplinary group of scientists and physicians presented largely unpublished research in an effort to share, inspire, and provoke new ways of thinking.  In sharing unpublished work, there is risk involved. When an entire group participates, however, this act of solidarity enables information to pass through as it becomes available, in order to swiftly and mindfully translate scientific research into treatment. Even Chief Scientific Officers of drug companies are carrying out their own projects to answer pressing questions, ensuring that their products are based on the best science available. The meeting concluded with words of gratitude and encouragement from the organizers, who left us with this inspiring thought:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

-African Proverb

At GAI, we are not only interested in past and present research, but in what scientists believe the future holds. GAI is determined to further certain aspects of microbiome research by working together to identify, contribute to, and raise money to fund central investigations impacting our knowledge and treatment of autoimmune disease.

Microbiome Facts

  • Our gut microbiome interacts with the microbiomes of our organs, including the brain.
  • The functions and interactions of the microbiome differ according to the species and strains of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, their quantity, their proximity to each other, and even their location in the gut.
  • Our microbiomes change in reaction to the food we eat, the time of day, and any medications we take – most importantly antibiotics.
  • Being born via cesarean section adversely affects our microbiomes, as they starts developing at birth (and most likely even in utero)
  • When our microbiomes are unhealthy, we’re vulnerable to allergies, infectious and autoimmune diseases, as well as neurological damage, which can cause anxiety, depression, anxiety, OCD, and movement and cognitive disorders.

Conference Highlights

  • Restoring a damaged microbial ecosystem is challenging, and may involve personalized therapies. The human microbiome appears to be resilient and stable, but is heavily context-dependent.
  • Fecal Microbial Transplantation (FMT) is an effective method of curing C. difficile infection, and also has promise in prompting remission in ulcerative colitis (UC).
  • Eliminating and adding certain foods in our diets could lead us to better health and help restore our microbiomes. For example, this could mean including fermented products to affect microbial consortia, in conjunction with therapeutics like FMT.
  • Lack of dietary fiber can result in erosion of the mucosal membrane in the gut and be a catalyst for intestinal diseases.
  • Increasing fiber in the diet provides diverse nutrients to help build the mucosal barrier in the intestine, which is protective against disease.

Further Questions

  • How do scientists better consider the risks involved with microbial therapies like FMT?
  • How important is the intestinal mucosal membrane in illness, and what foods contribute to its health or cause it damage? What enzymes and microbes are involved and how?
  • What microbes, fungi, and viruses are found in the gut?
  • How do we define certain microbes as “good” or “bad”?
  • What causes obesity? What substances found in nature can protect against it and how?
  • Short chain fatty acids (SCFA) are considered protective against obesity. How do SCFA form in our intestines, and how do they contribute to a healthy microbiome?
  • What differences are there in the microbiome of a vegan versus an omnivore? Is one better than the other for gut health?
  • How do the various liquid intravenous diets for IBD patients affect the microbiome? Can these diets be improved?
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