Sanford-Burnham’s 36th Annual Symposium: The Microbiome and Human Health

| Written by sgammon
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On Thursday, October 30, 2014, Sanford-Burnham hosted more than 250 attendees at its 36th annual symposium to hear opinion-leading scientists discuss their latest findings on the microbiome. The microbiome is a relatively new frontier for research scientists with aims to understand how the trillions of microbes—bacteria, viruses, fungi, and others—that live in our nose, mouth, gut, and skin interact with human cells to influence health and disease.

Traditionally, the medical community has viewed microbes as the cause of illness and sought to eliminate them. This perspective has shifted as emerging research about the species, amounts, and locations of microbes on and within the body are recognized as part of our individual ecosystems that start at infancy and evolve over time to digest food, fend off infections, and perform countless other life-sustaining, and life-threatening, tasks. In 2008, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched the Human Microbiome Project. The project collected and published genomic data on more than 175 microbes. Now, researchers are interrogating the very complex data to characterize the populations of microbes and how they interact with the host—the human biology.

Research on the microbiome may add a whole new dimension to the field of personalized medicine. For example, the microbes on an individual’s skin may predict how a patient responds to psoriasis or wound-healing treatments. Similarly, metabolites produced by gut microbes may affect the way a drug is supposed to be absorbed. This raises the possibility of developing new diagnostic products for predicting drug responses. Additionally, we know that altered microbial communities are associated with a variety of chronic diseases, such as inflammatory bowel diseases, allergic conditions, obesity, colorectal cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Now, researchers are investigating whether the associations are causal: does microbe A cause disease B, or does disease B cause microbe A. If causal relationships are established, interventions to alter the suspected microbiota may be used as therapy.

These are the early days of linking the microbiome to human health, and the symposium presenters revealed their unique findings of how our invisible residents share our lives, from birth to death. The event was sponsored by Johnson & Johnson and organized by Adam Godzik, Ph.D., director of the Bioinformatics and Structural Biology Program, and Scott Peterson, Ph.D., professor in the same program. Speakers included:

Keynote Speaker:  Sarkis Maxmanian, Ph.D., California Institute of Technology The gut microbiome in health and disease

Claire Fraser, Ph.D., University of Maryland School of Medicine The impact of probiotics on gut enterotypes

Elizabeth Grice, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine Host-microbiome interactions in skin health, disease and wound healing

David Fredricks, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.I.D.S.A., University of Washington The human vaginal microbiome

Scott Peterson, Ph.D., Sanford-Burnham Functional expression on dental plaque microbiota

James Versalovic, M.D., Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine The pediatric gut microbiome and microbial metabolites in intestinal biology

Wendy Garrett, M.D., Ph.D., Harvard School of Public Health The gut microbiome in colorectal cancer and colitis

Christian Jobin, Ph.D., University of Florida Inflammation and microbiome: important environmental factors in CRC?

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