Over half of the cells in the human body are microbial in origin. The gut microbiome, the high concentration of microbes living in our lower gut, plays a very important role in our health. This community of microorganisms produces compounds that act systemically throughout the entire body, which is why the gut microbiome has become an important area for research and scientific development.
At Microba, we are discovering the breadth of the gut microbiome to answer important questions for transforming human health. Are there specific species driving a disease signal? Are there diagnostic applications of the microbiome? Are there certain functional characteristics of the microbiome in the context of disease that could be studied for further potential therapeutic application?
Advances in microbiome analysis
Through advancements in technology, the field is now moving beyond associating the gut microbiome with disease to understanding the mechanisms of action and how different bacterial species are influencing disease states. By using metagenomic sequencing to look at all the microbial DNA in a sample, we can understand what functions the bacteria are capable of performing based on the genes they have to produce microbial compounds.
In discussing how metagenomics has enabled more comprehensive measurement of the microbiome, Professor Gene Tyson explained how Microba’s own analysis platform can accurately identify previously unseen species. This means we can get a greater understanding of the role of bacterial species in the gut, even if it has never been grown in the lab or characterised before.
“We’ve been able to optimise our bioinformatics pipelines to not only reconstruct genomes of novel organisms, but also use that information to measure the organisms within someone’s microbiome with a high degree of accuracy and sensitivity,” he said.
By precisely and comprehensively measuring the microbiome at a species and functional level, we can harness that information to translate this research into the clinic and develop new diagnostics and therapeutics based on deeper understanding of the gut microbiome.
Developing new treatments from the microbiome
With a rich data set of high quality metagenomic samples, and extensive metadata associated with each sample, it is possible to identify key bacterial species and functions involved in health and disease. Using advanced bioinformatic methods and artificial intelligence, we can dissect those signals from other factors that influence the microbiome.
Speaking about Microba’s own therapeutic discovery platform, Associate Professor Lutz Krause explained that this data-driven approach is identifying bacteria that are commonly found in the healthy population, but rarely detected in individuals with disease.
We have incredible data sets and a lot of opportunities to develop therapeutics for the treatment of diseases like IBD, and really make a difference for patients.Associate Professor Lutz Krause, Chief Scientific Officer
Through this platform, we’ve been able to detect key bacterial species and isolated them using the information from their genome. Testing in pre-clinical models have shown these microbes are having a positive effect in a disease setting, suppressing inflammation and helping rebuild the mucus layer which is often damaged in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
Identifying biomarkers for improved treatment options
Another area of gut microbiome research that could change the landscape of how we treat disease is in cancer treatment, particularly the use of immune checkpoint inhibitors. Preliminary studies have shown that a gut microbiome profile could be used to predict who would respond to immune checkpoint inhibitors, and this as an area of research that Microba is actively pursuing.
“We’re also interested in developing biomarkers from the gut microbiome, to predict who’s going to respond to treatments like immune checkpoint inhibitors, which are now widely used for cancer,” Associate Professor Lutz Krause said.
By identifying a microbial signature that indicates whether a person will respond to these treatments, there’s also an opportunity to use that information to develop microbiome-based therapeutics that can modulate a person’s gut microbiome to become a responder and improve their chances of responding to treatment.
Advancing microbiome research
With a growing body of scientific evidence demonstrating how interconnected the gut microbiome is with human health, the opportunities to investigate the microbiome and how it is influencing health are extremely broad. Accurately measuring the complexity of the microbiome is critical to empower researchers to make new discoveries.
Dr Kylie Ellis explained that years of research have led to Microba’s ability to precisely profile the species and functions of the microbiome, and she works with research partners to enable high quality microbiome research across a range of study areas.
“The microbiome influences so many different systems of the body so the sheer possibilities of what can come of microbiome research is incredibly exciting.”Dr Kylie Ellis, Head of Research Partnerships
Through research partnerships, we work with clients to identify biomarkers in disease, discover leads for new products, and advance the understanding of the microbiome’s role in the development of disease. There is no shortage of opportunities for discovery from the microbiome to transform human health.