While research into the human microbiome – the community of trillions of bacterial organisms living inside the human body – is only just beginning to take shape, Burnet Institute Head of Life Sciences, Professor Gilda Tachedjian is excited by the possibilities.
Speaking following Burnet’s Microbiome in Sexual, Maternal and Child Health Symposium, Professor Tachedjian described the microbiome as a new frontier.
“We’re at an early stage and there’s probably 30 to 40 years of work ahead of us to understand it,” she said.
“The complexity is there because not only do we have to think about the microbiome, but we also have to think about the host, the genetics behind it, about behavioural issues, and we have to think about diet when you’re talking about the gut microbiome.
“So it’s a really complex area to actually try to delineate the role of the microbiome.
“A lot of studies at the moment are about associations between bacterial communities and types of outcomes, but what we need is longitudinal studies to look at causation, and then come in at the interventions to see whether a particular type is causal for a particular outcome.
“There’s a long way to go.”
Professor Tachedjian said she was fascinated by keynote speaker Professor Jacques Ravel’s insights into the relationship between the microbiome in the vagina and pre-term delivery, and especially pleased with the Symposium’s session on Studies in Vulnerable Populations.
“That session brought together a whole lot of interesting ideas on the rectal microbiome, and the neovagina and issues transsexuals have that many people don’t appreciate,” she said.
“The microbiome may have a role in that and we really need to look more closely at how we can make an impact on improving health in that regard.”
“It’s also interesting that we’re looking beyond the microbiome to metabolites and short chain fatty acids and their impact on the post immune response.
“Today we heard about the role of short chain fatty acids in diabetes, so it’s been great to bring all these people together to find out more about such a varied and interesting field.”
Find out more about more about Professor Tachedjian’s research into the human microbiome.