AsianScientist (Mar. 24, 2020) – Invisible to the naked eye, billions of bacteria live in and on our bodies. In recent years, research has shown that these bacteria communities, or microbiomes, have an impact on human health and wellbeing.
For example, the gut microbiome has been shown to regulate appetite, affect the level of inflammation in the intestinal tract and even play a role in diabetes and dementia. By characterizing the gut microbiome of individuals, scientists aim to be able to manipulate the composition of bacterial populations in the gut to enact health benefits.
But not all microbiomes are the same; people living in different parts of the world, leading different lifestyles, are exposed to different types of bacteria. Hence, the findings of microbiome studies done in the west, for example, may not necessarily apply to Asia.
“The gut microbiome is heavily influenced by one’s environment and diet,” said Dr. Jeremy Lim, the co-founder of the Asian Microbiome Library (AMiLi), a company dedicated to gut microbiome research and innovation.
“What we want to do at AMiLi is find out what adaptations need to be made [to enable successful microbiome-based therapies], and also what unique challenges can be found in the Asian context,” Lim explained.
As a first step towards that goal, Lim and his team are working to build a reference library for the gut microbiome in Asia, consisting of two parts—a physical database and a digital one.
“For the physical bank, we take stool samples from healthy people,” Lim said. The bacteria from these stool samples are then sequenced to identify the microbiome constituents, and pristine samples—those free of disease-causing bacteria—can then be used as fecal transplants for sick individuals.
For example, the stool sample from a healthy individual can be transplanted into a patient suffering from recurrent Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) infections, which lead to frequent watery diarrhea. The ‘good’ bacteria from the stool donor repopulates the patient’s gut, and in 80 to 90 percent of cases, the patient recovers, Lim said. He added that such fecal transplants could also be used to alleviate irritable bowel syndrome.
At the same time, the sequencing data from stool donors contributes towards AMiLi’s digital bank, which will allow scientists to mine the microbiomes of Asians for deeper health insights. AMiLi is currently working with major healthcare providers and research institutes, locally as well as overseas, to create what he calls the gut microbiome version of “23andMe.”
With sufficient data, personalized microbiome-based therapies may become mainstream, and even the recommendations of probiotics use may need an update, Lim said.
“I think that the biggest myth is the notion that probiotics work equally well for everybody. It does not make sense that a probiotic, which is generically manufactured, works the same way when all of us have a very unique microbiome,” he explained.
“What we want to do as part of the AMiLi journey is to figure out what sort of probiotics work for you as an individual, and create very personalized, customized probiotic drinks or capsules that will benefit you and only you,” he concluded.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine.
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