Human Microbiome Research has Massive Potential for Health Applications

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Human Microbiome Research has Massive Potential for Health Applications

Thirteen years ago, a team led by J. Craig Venter Institute President, Karen Nelson, Ph.D., published the first major human microbiome study, radically changing the way we look at human health and the role the microbes that inhabit each of us play in disease.  This seminal publication was a tipping point that lead to numerous new areas of research. Currently, only 1% of all microbiomes are guiding applications in health, food systems and ecosystem resources, leaving enormous potential for a positive impact on these areas and more. JCVI scientists are researching two major areas of study; the role the oral microbiome plays in the development of caries (cavities) as well as how the microbiome plays a critical role in inflammation as the pathway to chronic disease.

JCVI scientist, Chris Dupont, Ph.D. is leading a project to change the landscape of dental care by evaluating the oral microbiome and its role in the development of caries. Currently, oral disease affects half of the world’s population with a total worldwide cost of over $544 billion, in 2015 alone. These dental issues greatly affect nearly 500 million juveniles, leading to poor overall systemic health and school attendance issues. Dental care typically consists of yearly or biyearly visits to identify oral health problems, however periodontitis and other oral diseases progress more rapidly this and most affected individuals can’t afford treatment. Dr. Dupont’s research has the potential to revolutionize the detection of these diseases. He and his team are working to develop an inexpensive, noninvasive and widely accessible mail-in sample kit that would evaluate the oral microbiome for changes that signal issues prior to the advent of caries.

JCVI scientist, Marcelo Freire, DDS, Ph.D, DMSc is leading a project seeking to better understand inflammation as a pathway to chronic disease, more specifically, how the host-microbiome interactions play a major role. Chronic inflammatory diseases are the most significant cause of death globally. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks chronic diseases as the greatest threat to human health. Inflammation is the body’s natural immune response to harmful stimuli and is critical to routine health maintenance. However, prolonged or inflammation can have devastating effects and can lead to Lupus, Type 2 Diabetes and even some types of cancers. By investigating the oral microbiome’s role in inflammatory activation, the team is looking for biomarkers as they relate to specific diseases and the development of diagnostic tools. One potential breakthrough is an oral sensor which would deliver an individual a daily inflammation score by monitoring systemic interactions. Since the mouth is the origin point for the digestive system, changes in the oral microbiome can be early signals of disease. This research is so promising that Dr. Freire was asked to write an entire chapter on inflammation for the 2020 Surgeon General’s Report.

At JCVI, we believe it is of vital importance to accelerate the path to make timely discoveries that will make substantial impact on global challenges. We do this through high-risk/high-reward research—the outcomes of which are not always easy to predict.

JCVI depends on private funds to unleash our scientists’ most groundbreaking ideas, moving them from mere plans to impactful programs. An investment in innovative research allows you to be a part of creating a better future. It is thought that 90% of disease can be linked in some way back to the gut and health of the microbiome. Imagine if you could say you funded the quest to better understand the human microbiome? That’s the kind of work we do and the kind of support we need. To donate to the Innovation Fund and help JCVI reach its goals, read more.