“There are more bacterial cells than there are human cells (in the human body), which could mean that you and I are only 50% human,” says Professor Arjan Narbad, group leader, Translational Microbiome Research Group at Quadram Institute Bioscience, Norwich, UK.
At the Happiest Health Future of Medicine summit in Bengaluru on 9 March, Prof Narbad elaborated on the significance of the microbiome as an integral part of human health. Numerous studies show that these microbial populations are implicated in health conditions such as cancer, obesity, and Parkinson’s disease (PD), he added.
His talk highlighted the symbiotic relationship we share with the microbes that live within us. “The microbes can provide us with health benefits in terms of producing many of the nutrients we need to sustain ourselves, while we give them a nice comfortable home within our bodies,” said Prof Narbad.
He said human beings are superorganisms, where the functions and metabolism within the body are an amalgamation of the function of our genes, as well as that of the microbes. Therefore, any disruption in the microbiome can contribute to the development of various health conditions.
“The microbiome has been associated with gut disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease, and colon cancer, but more recently, it is also being associated with extra intestinal disorders, including diabetes, obesity, and asthma,” added Prof Narbad.
He touched upon the potential role of the gut-brain axis in neurodegenerative conditions such as PD with research in mice showing that when the microbiota of a person with PD was transplanted into mice, the symptoms of PD worsened for these mice.
“We are seeing the microbiome to now be associated with anxiety, depression, and even Parkinson’s disease. It brings up the potential use of psychobiotics for the treatment of anxiety, depression, and mood disorders,” he added.
When speaking on the future therapeutic potential, Narbad brought up the use of faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT)—a process by which the microbiome of a healthy donor is transplanted into another individual to replenish lost microbes.
The success of this procedure in treating C. difficile infection has led to its use in more than 200 different trials for different indications including obesity, urinary tract infections, constipation, PD, and cancer.
Prof Narbad added that the process of FMTs is being revolutionised with freeze-dried pills being developed as an alternative to using fresh samples. Researchers are also looking at creating a more defined mix of these microbes to be used in pills to achieve a more targeted effect on the gut microbiome.