Sunday, April 12, 2015

Updates on Fecal Microbiome Transplants, Microbiome Study Reproducibility, and Basic Research (IHMC2015)

Paul Wilmes, one of our Luxembourg hosts, presenting
the congress opening remarks.
A couple of weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to attend the International Human Microbiome Congress (IHMC2015) in Luxembourg. This congress got together the leading microbiome researchers from around the world to share and discuss their science. I met a lot of awesome microbiome researchers, saw a lot of the most recent microbiome research, and even had the opportunity to represent the Grice lab by talking about my research.

There were a lot of awesome presentations highlighting the exciting microbiome research being conducted around the world. Luckily, there was a lot of live tweeting recording the major points throughout the talks. To read the research specifics, check out the conference Twitter feed here. While there was a wide range of research topics covered, there were definitely some major highlights that I will cover here.

One of the major themes of the conference was the therapeutic application of microbiome research, and specifically fecal microbiome transplant (FMT) therapy. As the name implies, FMT is a transplant of fecal material from a donor to a recipient gut. The point is to transfer the gut bacterial communities from a healthy individual to someone with a bacterial gut infection or related disease. Right now the main application of this therapy is for Clostridium difficile infections, where the healthy bacteria can outcompete the infecting bacteria.

There was a lot of talk at the conference about fecal microbiome transplant therapy, how we are going to create a national registry for the donated samples, how we can standardize the therapy (potentially as a probiotic drug), and even how viruses are being transferred along with the bacteria. To date, this is arguably the greatest therapeutic advance to come from the microbiome field, and is definitely a topic on everybody's mind.

Exploring Luxembourg with friends Alexandra
Bryson (left) and Christel Chehoud (taking
In addition to the therapeutic applications of microbiome research, there were also major technical and basic research themes. A lot of people talked about, and were heavily interested in, replicability and standardization of microbiome research throughout the field. There was a lot of interest in standardizing the bioinformatics workflows associated with microbiome research projects, as well as sample collection and sequencing. Most projects have different methods, which makes multi-study comparisons and interpretations difficult. The microbiome research field is still relatively in its infancy, so these kinds of standardizations are needed as we move forward with more robust research programs.

There was a general focus on the basic science we can learn from microbiome sequencing-based studies. The therapeutic implications are of course very important, be we also want a greater basic understanding of microbial ecology of humans. I think it seems like everybody in the field is focusing entirely on the clinical applications, but it is important to remember that a lot of researchers are doing great research into the specific mechanisms by which we humans interact with microbes.

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