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Funding boost for microbiome research

Funding boost for microbiome research - Featured Image

Cutting-edge research into the gut microbiota is set to receive a significant funding boost from the federal government, allowing researchers to potentially unlock more mysteries of this new frontier of medicine.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has committed $4 million to the UNSW’s Microbiome Research Centre (MRC) based at St George Hospital. The MRC, which is set to open in February 2019, is a collaboration between UNSW, the St George and Sutherland Medical Research Foundation, and the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District.

“What is happening in Australia is innovative, visionary and specialised. I never cease to be excited about the science community and how passionate the science community is.”

“The studies being done on the impact of the microbiome in mothers, infants and the future health of Australian children – that’s exciting”, Mr Morrison said at the time of the announcement.

What we know about the microbiome and the role it plays in our health

Professor Emad El-Omar, professor of medicine at the St George and Sutherland Clinical School and director of the MRC, told doctorportal that the funding boost would allow critical research to be undertaken in this “new frontier of medicine”.

“We’ve known about it for many years, but in the last decade is where we’ve seen a dramatic advancement in technology that has allowed us to study the microbiome better and better design studies to look at these trillions of bugs that live on us, within us, and contribute to normal health.”

“People are also becoming more aware of the impact the gut microbiome has on metabolism, the immune system, and how all of this could be implicated in many diseases.”

Professor El-Omar said that “probably the most basic thing we’ve discovered is having that normal microbiome, which is acquired in the first years of life, sets the barometer correctly for the rest of your life because it educates your immune system and allows you to have normal interactions with environmental exposures.”

Funding will support three research initiatives on the microbiome

The $4 million funding boost will go towards supporting three key areas at the MRC. The first is to enhance the bioinformatics capacity of the centre, which will be crucial to the success of the MRC. “We want this capacity to be fully integrated with our team, so we can understand the clinical questions and the biological questions we’re looking at”, Professor El-Omar said.

The MRC will look at the role the microbiome has in pregnancy and how this influences outcomes for mother and baby. “What we’re talking about here is being able to look at the microbiome and predict adverse events.”

“The idea is that you’d be able to define a signature that will tell you if someone is at increased risk of diabetes or pre-eclampsia, and this would allow us to pre-emptively change the future”, Professor El-Omar said

The MRC will also be conducting more research into the healthy microbiome and what this looks like.

“If we want to change the microbiome, we need to know what we want to change it to and what we’re aiming for. This study will hopefully tell us what the target is for any type of manipulation”, Professor El-Omar said.