It’s no secret that there are trillions of beneficial bacteria, fungus, and viruses that live in the human body, creating the many microbiomes that exist throughout the body and are essential to a person’s health. A lesser known fact, however, is that the makeup of each person’s microbiome can vary significantly based on a number of factors such as diet, medication, or even exercise regimen. Today, there is still not complete understanding on the health implications of microbiome differences, so the National Institute of Health is conducting a study to create a microbiological roadmap within the body. The benefits of this can be huge, as better understanding how the human body works can lead to the development of new, innovative treatments that will ultimately make medicine more effective.
To help us understand this new breakthrough will be Dr. Imran Haque, an internist and general practitioner based out of North Carolina. He is very excited about mapping out the microbiome environments within the human body, as it is reminiscent of the human genome project and can help development of medication make a huge leap forward. To help us understand exactly how this can happen, Dr. Imran Haque will be leveraging his extensive experience of over 15 years as a doctor to explain how mapping out the human body’s microbiomes can lead to better medicine.
Research and Findings on Gut Flora Differences
The understanding of microbiomes today is a bit nebulous – it is known that there are beneficial bacteria in the body and that they can be developed and nurtured through certain diets. Researchers have also known that certain medication today, particularly antibiotics, take a carpet-bombing approach to wiping out hostile bacteria – meaning that beneficial bacteria in the body are often victims of collateral damage. However, it is not easy to gauge exactly how much of an impact wiping out beneficial bacteria in the body affects people and why it can vary so much from person to person, which is why strides are being taken to close that gap. Research has already shown that differences in gut flora can have a surprisingly large impact on a person’s health.
In a study done with rats, injecting the gut flora of an obese rat into a lean rat lead to rapid weight gain in the lean rat. The only difference in this scenario for the lean rat is the microbiology change in the lean rat’s gut. Similar behavior has been observed in people who had weight loss surgery, where a disproportionate number of patients experience rapid weight gain even after excess fat was removed off their body. The implications are important, as it hints that the constitution of a person’s gut flora can continue to play a role long after they change their lifestyle and diet in attempt to lose weight. However, not much research has been done on microbiomes in other parts of the body, and there could be huge implications there as well. Dr. Imran Haque points out that furthering understanding of a body’s microbiomes can lead to revolutionary treatment plans, especially in the realm of weight loss and general health improvements. Being able to shift a person’s microbiome makeup via diet and activity changes to grow a stronger immune system or make weight management easier can be hugely beneficial for all patients. Even more important, being able to make small changes in a person’s microbiomes that can result in substantial health changes leading to healthcare costs.
Wide-Ranging Effects on Gut Microbiomes
Gut microbiomes are the most researched and best understood microbiome today. Numerous studies have shown how the makeup of a person’s gut flora can have wide ranging implications on their health outside of just how well they can digest certain foods. Studies have shown that gut microbiomes can play a role in the development of serious diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia, autism, and even chronic fatigue syndrome. Specifically, researchers found that some genetically susceptible people’s altered gut flora can cause disruptions in the blood-brain barrier, which leads to the growth of antibodies that adversely affect the brain. Dr. Imran Haque points out that just the microbiome makeup of the gut can already have such wide-ranging implications, it’s fully possible that differences in microbiomes in other areas of the body can have similar effects and understanding them completely can lead to huge improvements in medicine. Specifically, knowing how existing medication interacts with the microbiology throughout the body is key to development of more targeted and effective medicine in the future.
Furthering Understanding of Microbiomes
The process of mapping out the human body’s microbiology is being led by the National Institute of Health through a five-year long project. The project has a number of different teams under its umbrella, where each team focuses on a different region of the body such as skin, blood, or gastrointestinal tract. Dr. Martin J. Blaser leads up a team based out of New York University focused on skin microbiomes, where they examine the organisms on the skin of 75 patients with and without an illness called psoriasis. They then examine how medication for the illness can affect the microbiome makeup of the skin, and whether or not it has an adverse affect. A team based out of Washington University in St. Louis led by Dr. Gregory A. Storch is leading the charge on blood microbiology, where they are evaluating the role of viruses and bacteria in the blood of children who develop serious fevers. Clair M. Fraser-Liggett and Dr. Alan R. Shuldiner jointly focus on how the gastrointestinal tract’s bacteria makeup can affect the energy a person has and the development of obesity.
The Future of Medicine – Microbiomes
Dr. Imran Haque points out that understanding and creating a microbiome map of the different areas in the human body is essential towards more effective medicine. Knowing exactly how different bacteria, viruses, and fungi interact and react in the body can help determine whether or not it’s possible to make minute changes in microbiology to achieve an end goal, such as strengthening a person’s immune system or weight loss. More importantly, being able to make minute changes in a person’s microbiomes introduces a new preventative method against chronic and serious illnesses, which can lead to overall cheaper healthcare costs. Ultimately, mapping out the microbiomes in the human body will lead to cheaper and more effective medicine in the future.