The Microbiome and human health

The Society for Microbiology (SfAM) Microbiome and human health meeting in April rides the current zeitgeist for feverish interest in all aspects of the microbiome.

SfAM is delighted to present a conference that’s satisfying this curiosity of with a programme that’s varied, high profile and rich in content.

Companies selling ‘probiotic’ foods have long claimed that cultivating the right gut bacteria might benefit mental well-being. Neuroscientists have been a tad less enthusiastic- until now. Evidence linking conditions such as autism and depression to the gut’s microbial residents has proved compelling, if not entirely conclusive.

BrainMicrobial moodiness

Accumulating data now indicates that the gut microbiota also communicates with the central nervous system (CNS) — possibly through neural, endocrine and immune pathways — and so influences brain function and behaviour.

Recent studies in germ-free animals and in animals exposed to pathogenic bacterial infections, probiotic bacteria or antibiotic drugs suggest a role for the gut microbiota in the regulation of anxiety, mood, cognition and pain.

The evolving concept of a microbiota–gut–brain axis suggests that modulation of the gut microbiota might be an amenable strategy for developing novel therapeutics for complex CNS disorders.

pills-on-plateBrain-gut axis

John Cryan, a neuropharmacologist and microbiome expert from the University College Cork will be sharing his compelling insights at our meeting in his presentation, ‘What’s bugging you? Microbiome as a key regulator of brain and behaviour’

Widely regarded as a dazzling expert in this field, he’s edited books on ‘Behavioural Neurogenetics’ (Springer Press, 2012) on ‘Depression: From Psychopathology to Pharmacotherapy’ (Karger Press, 2010) and ‘Microbial Endocrinology: The Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis in Health and Disease’ (Springer Press, 2014).

John F Cryan (2)Tyrannical teamwork

Cryan likens the workings of the brain-gut axis to Downton Abbey: “You have two communities living together in the one house,” he explains. “They need each other to survive, but it’s only when things go wrong downstairs that we start to appreciate how that really affects what happens upstairs.”

In conjunction with psychiatrist Ted Dinan, Cryan coined the term ‘psychobiotics’ to describe live organisms that, when ingested in adequate amounts, work on the brain/gut axis to produce health benefits in patients suffering from psychiatric illnesses and to alleviate symptoms for sufferers of depression, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and chronic fatigue.

Named on the Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researcher list, he’s proved a very entertaining TEDMED speaker in Washington and spoke at WIRED Health in London in 2015. He’s an excellent raconteur and is at the forefront of this sphere, so it’s not to be missed!

Downton Abbey CastGenome sequencing

The Plenary Lecture from Anne Neville will share the challenges and breakthroughs of charting novel gut bacteria for human health. A big obstacle to microbiome research has been the perception that many of the bacteria colonizing the human body are unculturable.

Neville and her colleagues cultured bacteria from human faecal samples on agar containing a broad-range bacterial growth medium and then used metagenomics sequencing to compare the bacterial communities that grew in culture to those found in the original samples.

genomeBacteria cocktails

Contrary to prevailing thought, the cultures contained 90% of the bacterial abundance (at the species level) detected in the original faecal samples. In total, they isolated 137 bacterial species, of which 45 are potentially novel, and archived each species for further study.

Using the library of new bacteria, Anne Neville and her team at the Sanger Institute hope to generate a pill, containing a wisely selected, defined cocktail of bacteria, which could be taken by patients and replace Faecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT).

flying pills bannerGwyneth speaketh

Sadly, it seems that much public discussion of vaginal health seems to be prompted by the dangerous witterings of one Gwyneth Paltrow. The actress has recommended that women steam-clean their vaginas for ‘extra energy’, ‘to rebalance female hormones’ and for a generally shiny clean uterus.

Oh, and Paltrow recently added some more advice to her questionable roster- put a jade egg – yes, a solid object about the size of a golf ball – in the vagina and keep it there all day or while sleeping. Despite widespread criticism from the medical community, the eggs sold out.

Janneke van de Wijgert is like the brilliant antidote to Paltrow’s pseudoscience and will be speaking on the ‘Vaginal microbiota’. Janneke is a clinical epidemiologist and Professor at the Institute of Infection and Global Health of the University of Liverpool.

vaginal microbiomeVaginal Microbiota

Janneke van de Wijgert’s research focuses on HIV prevention and reproductive health in Africa, most notably the development of vaginal products for HIV prevention and the role of the vaginal microbiota in reproductive health and disease. She has co-founded three clinical research sites in Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Mozambique.

The idea that bacteriophage are an unexplored majority fuels the research of Lesley Ogilvie (University of Brighton). High-throughput metagenomic studies are providing unprecedented glimpses into viral ecosystems, including the human gut, suggesting they’re a potent force driving ecological functioning and evolutionary change. Ogilvie will be addressing this in her presentation, ‘The gut virome and phage ecogenomics’.

Other speakers at this event include Rob Read (‘Interactions between Neisseria commensals in the nasopharynx), Simon Cutting (Probiotics and suppression of gut infections) and Thomas Clarke (The regulation of host defences by the commensal microbiota).

‘The microbiome and human health’ meeting is on 12 April 10:00-17:00 at  University of Westminster 35 Marylebone Road London NW1 5LS

Information and tickets for this event



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