Kate Gallagher provides an insight into microbiome research; a promising area of science that may pave the way for new treatments for a number of conditions ranging from inflammatory bowel disease to cancer.
You may be familiar with the age-old phrase, ‘you are what you eat’. Whilst I can assure readers that despite ingesting an inordinate amount of Reese’s pieces, you probably aren’t nuts, recent developments in research into the gut microbiome are beginning to tell us that the population of microbes inhabiting our gut may be much more powerful than we’ve previously given them credit for.
What is the microbiome?
The term microbiome refers to the additional set of genes arising from the diverse and unique array of microbes that have established themselves in a variety of habitats throughout our body. This is not to be confused with the term microbiota, simply referring to their names and quantities. These communities of bacteria, viruses, fungi and yeasts can be found in significant proportions in regions such as the gastrointestinal and reproductive tracts, your oral cavity, and skin. Overall, bacterial cells in our body match the number of human cells at a 1:1 ratio, meaning the microbiome has a significant contribution towards our genetic diversity, harnessing great potential to aid our understanding of a number of medical conditions targeted by decades of research. (more…)
Dr Jonathan Swann’s research looks at thousands of small molecules called metabolites in an attempt to better understand a bigger problem of malnutrition and infection – a vicious combination.
Around the world, chronic undernutrition burdens the lives of over 150 million children. The effects of early life undernutrition can extend beyond infancy, stunting the physical and cognitive development of children. This stunting can often have wider societal effects including a decrease in the productivity and economic output of a community, restricting its overall progress. To make matters worse, chronic undernutrition is closely associated with repeated and persistent infections.
Such infections are common in resource-constrained settings due to inadequate water supplies and lack of access to basic healthcare. This double burden of malnutrition and infections can combine to drive inflammatory processes in the gut leading to malabsorption of nutrients and impaired immune responses, further exacerbating the malnourished state and persistence of infections. Breaking this cycle of undernutrition, infections and poverty represents a significant challenge.
Dr Aaron Lett and Professor Gary Frost explain how Imperial is leading initiatives to address undernutrition in low-middle income countries.
Undernutrition is still a big problem in 2019.
Of the 5.6 million child deaths which occur globally, it is estimated 45% of them can be attributed to undernutrition. The majority of undernutrition occurs in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and manifests as stunting, wasting, and underweight.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that today, 155 million children under five years are stunted, 52 million children are wasted, and 17 million are severely wasted. In addition to the negative health impact, undernutrition has significant economic and social implications on these LMICs. Despite current treatments that aim to reverse the nutritional status of individuals with undernutrition, there is still significant morbidity and mortality. (more…)
Dr Ben Mullish and Dr Julie McDonald explore the ins and outs of faecal microbiota transplants – it may sound unpleasant but this procedure is proving to be an effective way of treating chronic gut infections.
Most of us can name (or may have had first-hand experience of) a number of different bacteria that can cause serious gut infections, such as Salmonella or Campylobacter. However, what is less well-known is that we also have billions of bacteria living in our guts that normally do us no harm at all. Some actually have important contributions towards our health – including prevention of bacterial pathogens entering our gut and causing infections. Collectively, this huge population of microorganisms living inside our digestive tracts is often referred to as the ‘gut microbiota’. If anything happens to us that disturbs or kills off members of this gut microbiota – such as exposure to antibiotics, or surgery – then we have greater vulnerability to gut infections, and particularly from a form of bacteria called Clostridium difficile. (more…)
In this festive post, Dr Anjali Amin looks at how to keep our gut microbiome happy over this period of indulgence.
As the festive season approaches, one wonders how our bodies prepare for the enormity of food that will be ingested in a relatively short space of time. In the UK alone, the average person consumes 7000 calories on Christmas Day alone. This is three times the recommended calorie intake per day, and most of us will have reached the recommended calorie intake before Christmas lunch has even been served. And of course, it’s not just about eating more. We are also a great deal more sedentary, with the average person in the UK spending 5.5 hours a day in front of the television over the Christmas period desperately awaiting reruns of Blackadder and yet another Christmas special! (more…)