Whenever anyone discusses aspects of the microbiome and health, questions of the types of foods we eat invariably arise. But have we considered that the methods of preparing that food may matter at least as much? In a study published this week, researchers tackle that very question.
You know from reading this site that "fecal microbial transplant" (FMT), which involves transplanting stool from a healthy person into the intestines of a sick person, has revolutionized treatment of a dangerous condition called "C. diff colitis." It has also been proposed as a possible avenue for benefiting many other human health conditions. Millions of dollars are being directed toward FMT and microbiome research, and some are even self-administering FMT! In the case of C diff, FMT has saved many lives. Sadly, it has now been associated with the loss of a life.
The FDA issued a statement this week noting that two people became very sick, and one died, after receiving FMT. The two patients, who both had impaired immune systems, received stool from the same donor, who was not screened for a certain antibiotic-resistant bacteria before the procedure.
I contacted the gastroenterology group in Jackson, MS, with whom I have ongoing FMT research (writing a paper currently!). They, like many providers, ONLY transplant stool from OpenBiome, a nonprofit stool bank in Cambridge, MA. OpenBiome's website responded to this news with the following June 14, 2019, statement:
"OpenBiome screens for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including the bacteria involved in a recent safety alert from FDA. OpenBiome did not provide the FMT connected to the event, and we are servicing providers as usual."
This terrible report highlights the very reason why, while it is tempting to get ahead of ourselves, it's so important to be careful and patient with new ideas and technologies. The "experts" I've talked to don't think this will dampen enthusiasm for trying to beneficially alter the microbiome, but they agree that it serves as a sobering reminder of the importance of, as one email response said, "oversight and rigor."
Read yesterday's NPR's report HERE.
Thanks so much, Dr. Marty Gebhart, for sending this link to a fascinating podcast addressing ways our microbiomes influence reproduction.
Podcast host Dawn Davenport hooked me with her introduction:
"We'll be talking today about the human microbiome and its effect on fertility, and this is a subject that I'm personally absolutely fascinated by, and, honestly, from the response to a show we did a few years ago on this topic, it's a subject of great interest to many of you. Now, don't tune us out because you think this is going to be a biology lesson; it won't be. I would be very surprised if you don't not only find this interesting but also come away with a new perspective on the complexity and, honestly, the beauty of the human body. That's how this subject always leaves me feeling."
Thanks again, Dr. Gebhart. Enjoy, everyone, and feel free to leave your thoughts.
This fascinating glimpse at what happens to the microbiomes of those coming from Asia to the U.S. helps us to better understand some of the aspects of our culture that contribute to chronic health concerns. CLICK HERE
I'm really thankful to have been hosted today at Vanderbilt University by Dr. Mariana Byndloss and all her wonderful lab colleagues. The BYNDLOSS LAB is mainly addressing three questions:
1. How does the microbial imbalance induced by high-fat diets promote increased risk for heart disease?
2. How does antibiotic exposure early in life contribute to prolonged gut microbial imbalance and increased risk of weight gain?
3. Can we prevent the "bloom" of colon cancer associated bacteria?
Additionally, Andy Brooks showed me around his lab, led by Dr. Seth Bordenstein, Director of the Vanderbilt Microbiome Initiative. The BORDENSTEIN LAB focuses on the following inquiries:
1. What is the impact of ethnicity and diet on human microbiome variation and health disparities?
2. How might the global presence of a bacteria called Wolbachia that infects most insects represent a major mosquito control strategy?
3. How do animals form mutually beneficial relationships with microbial communities?
4. How did life progress from one species to many millions, and do microbes impact the origin of new animal species?
5. What is the future of science education for high schools, colleges, and citizen scientists (like members of halfhuman.org), and how can local communities participate in discovery-based research to learn biology and hands-on biotechnology?
I owe both Dr. Byndloss and Andy big-time for allowing me to intrude on their workdays!
Dr. Byndloss (red) and colleagues
Dr. Rob Knight and me
Morning registration duties
Drs. Lita Proctor, Rob Knight, Jonathan Eisen, and Linda Brubaker in a final discussion panel called "Breaking the Glass Ceiling: How Do We Solve the Gender Imbalance in STEM?"
Today marks the final day of my west coast excursion! After enjoying my brief experience here helping with the first CMI International Microbiome Meeting, I'm leaving Cali with an even deeper respect and amazement for all that lies unseen by the naked eye. Many thanks to Dr. Rob Knight and all the organizers for two days of fascinating talks with titles ranging from "The Role of the Microbiome in Inflammatory Bowel Disease" to "Whale Microbiomes: Insights from Skin, Blow, and Guts and Potential Use in Health Monitoring."
The experience was made all the more interesting by the fact that all 27 speakers were female, an obviously intentional decision designed to shine light on the problem of gender imbalance at scientific conferences. This generated considerable attention, including an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal referenced here.
While I choose to leave discussions of gender inequality in science to those more informed than I, it's fair to say that a major takeaway from my personal conference experience is that a lack of diversity can be associated with significant pathology,--whether it's in the "micro" context of an inflammatory bowel disease microbiome or the "macro" context of gender representation!
All in all, I'm so very grateful for the opportunity to listen, learn, and hopefully help a little bit, and I'm excited to be returning this summer to work in the Knight Lab in microbiome research!
Dr. Jim Sones, who has just retired as Chief of the Division of Digestive Diseases at University of Mississippi Medical Center recently joined our efforts at halfhuman.org! He will be speaking at Jackson Prep's recently formed Biomedical Club this week and was nice enough to send me the following link to a New York Times article which, while a few years old, serves as a very nice introduction to the human microbiome. Enjoy!
So sugar may cause issues for some of our beneficial gut bugs...so let's load up on the Equal and Splenda! Right? Alas, maybe not. Perhaps humans just aren't intended to indulge in anything sweet (sob!). Read more here.
Sugars may taste good, but, as this article from NOVA points out, they can also halt the production of proteins that encourage the growth of "good" gut microbes.