By: Angelica Recierdo
Dr. Lynn Bry, MD, PhD of the Department of Pathology wants the Brigham & Women’s Hospital (BWH) community to be more informed about the more than 90% of cells living on and within our bodies that are not ours. Everyone’s microbiome is unique and affected by genes and lifestyle factors. Imagine if our microbiotic profile could be used as a diagnostic biomarker like cholesterol levels? That goal is now more feasible after the joint awarding of a Massachusetts Life Sciences Center grant of $4.8 million to be shared between BWH, the Forsyth Institute, Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Harvard Digestive Disease Center to form the collective “Massachusetts Host-Microbiome Center.” This funding will advance more clinical trials in therapeutics and the development of diagnostic tools.
According to Bry, nothing quite like this robust collaboration of academic and medical facilities has ever existed in the medical arena of the microbiome. Usually other centers focus on sequence-based technologies for gene content whereas the Massachusetts Host-Microbiome Center will advance that further to research how that information can be used and applied in various medical disciplines. Bry has been spearheading this work in the state’s largest germ-free animal facility with the HDDC located at BWH and when combined with the oral health expertise of The Forsyth Institute, as well as BCH’s ranking of the number one pediatric gastroenterology division in the country – there could be not be a more stellar collaboration for the future of microbiome innovation.
Specialties like infectious disease, gastroenterology, pathology, endocrinology, etc. could all benefit from more microbiome training and application in patient care. Understanding what microbiota in our guts makes patients more susceptible to superbugs like C. difficile and E. coli can tackle the increasing burden of hospital-acquired infections. Studying IBD patients and following them longitudinally for patterns can reveal the dynamics of the microbiome and how it is variably associated with disease. Patients with diabetes or food allergies could be missing certain microorganisms and it’s important for their clinicians to know that. Even in pharmacology, if the metabolic capacity of the microbiome could be tapped into, drug activation and toxicity could be better understood or in psychiatry where mental illnesses are linked to the gut. There is no specialty that the microbiome does not affect or contribute valuable research to.
The most valuable asset of the development of this new center is the clinical and industry collaborations. Massachusetts could pave the way for the rest of the nation to harness this wealth of information sitting in our guts. Although the majority of her work takes place in a lab, Bry is a firm believer in the notion of “treating the patient, not the labs.” With the help of the MLSC grant, the microbiome can be better utilized to identify each person’s unique reactions to disease, with the same personalization as a fingerprint.