The human microbiome is the term used for all microorganisms present in or on the human body. Scientists have studied microbiomes for a long time but only recently began to study the microbiome as a whole-body system. Microbiome research is a relatively new field of study. Decreasing costs and increasing interest have led to a boom in microbiome research. Scientists encourage people to participate in studies because it contributes valuable data, but what exactly do they learn from this information? What role does the microbiome play in human health? Here are the ways in which this research relates to human health.
Microbiome research can lead to new therapies for digestive diseases through the discovery of new antibiotics, probiotics, and prebiotics (a type of dietary fiber that supports ‘good’ bacteria in the gut). Scientists through gut microbiome analysis service and other research methods are still studying which microbes cause problems or prevent them. For example, researchers found that people with inflammatory bowel disease have different bacteria than those without the condition. Inflammatory bowel disease is caused by an abnormal immune response to gut microbiota. Another group of scientists found that adding beneficial bacteria to the digestive tract could reduce diarrhea caused by taking antibiotics.
Improved Testing Methods
Microbiome research opens up possibilities for improved diagnostic tools and tests. These tests could be used to detect and monitor the progress of the disease, identify people at high risk for developing specific diseases, and determine which treatments are most effective. If the microbiome is found to cause or contribute to a particular illness, tests could also be developed that allow doctors to diagnose it based on its unique microbial signature.
Microbiome research can help scientists develop new drugs. Identifying the bacteria that are involved in various processes will allow them to design drugs that target these specific bacteria. By studying how microbiota communicates, they could find ways to regulate or prevent disease by influencing certain bacterial populations.
Hylenex recombinant DNA is an example of how microbiome research helps scientists develop drugs. Hylenex recombinant DNA (hyaluronidase human injection) is used to treat hereditary lymphedema and prevent pain after surgery. Knowing which bacteria are involved in producing hyaluronidase will help scientists develop a drug with the same function but fewer side effects.
Scientists have known for a while that microbes influence how neurotransmitters in the brain function. They’re now beginning to study this relationship more closely and discover ways to manipulate gut microbiota in order to treat various mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.
Bacteria produce chemicals that communicate with the brain. These chemicals may act as neurotransmitters themselves or signal the body to produce more serotonin, dopamine, and GABA (neurotransmitters that affect mood).
Currently, they’re studying the effects of probiotics on mental health conditions. Probiotics are live bacteria that can be found in some foods and supplements. In a separate study, scientists tested the effects of eating probiotic yogurt versus drinking kefir (a fermented milk drink that naturally contains probiotics) on anxiety levels. They discovered that individuals who ate the yogurt had decreased cortisol levels (cortisol is a hormone associated with stress) after performing stressful tasks, but those who drank the kefir did not show this reduction.
These results give scientists a better understanding of how intestinal bacteria affect mental health and will allow them to develop more effective treatments that target microbiota.
Scientists think that the microbiome might also influence autism. Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental condition that causes problems in social and communication skills, as well as repetitive behaviors such as rocking back and forth. Researchers found that when autistic children were treated with antibiotics for gastrointestinal problems they experienced less severe symptoms of autism than before their treatment. The same effect was not seen when non-autistic children were treated with antibiotics.
Researchers are currently studying the effect that antibiotics have on the microbiota in order to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistance occurs when a particular type of bacterium changes in such a way that the antibiotics used to treat it are no longer effective.
Bacteria communicated using chemical signals, scientists discovered by accident when they noticed that releasing these signals from one type of bacterium killed other types of bacteria present in the same area. Using this knowledge, they treated bacterial infections caused by P. aeruginosa (a common type of bacteria found in the lungs) with antibiotics that released chemical signals (quorum sensing inhibitors/QSI). While the QSIs did not kill P. aeruginosa directly, they reduced its levels and prevented antibiotic resistance from developing so the antibiotics could effectively kill the bacteria.
Additionally, scientists found that microbiota could be used to fight antibiotic-resistant bugs in another way: by modifying how antibiotics work so they can still destroy pathogenic bacteria but not healthy gut microbiota.
By developing new treatments and therapies for combating antibiotic resistance, researchers hope to prevent further damage done by these dangerous infections.
Obesity and Metabolic Issues
Microbiome research could lead to a better understanding of obesity and related conditions such as metabolic disease, fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, and diabetes type 2.
People who are obese have different gut bacteria than people with a normal weight even when they eat similar diets, suggesting that obesity has an effect on intestinal microbiota. This discovery led to the idea of treating obesity with “probiotics”, live bacteria found in yogurts, and supplements that can alter the microbiota, resulting in weight loss. Yet there’s still much research to be done here because scientists don’t know if this is an effective long-term treatment.
Scientists are also researching the connection between the microbiome and food allergies. People with celiac disease (the inability to digest gluten) usually experience negative effects from eating products that contain gluten. Now, some scientists think that the microbiome might have a role in this. They found that when people with celiac disease ate food containing gluten, they were able to do so without experiencing symptoms after receiving a transplant of gut bacteria from healthy donors.
In another experiment, scientists transplanted microbiota from children with allergies into germ-free mice. After the transplantation, the mice were exposed to allergens such as peanuts and pollen. They found that 40% of these mice did not develop allergies after exposure to allergens compared to only 10% in a control group without microbiota transplants.
Microbiome research is a relatively new field of science but it holds a lot of potential for improving human health. Researchers are looking into the effects that antibiotics and probiotics have on microbiota, how this affects people suffering from autism and other mental illnesses, what effect gut bacteria has on obesity and metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes, and whether or not microbiome transplants could be used as an effective treatment for allergies.