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All posts by Liz Bent

Hello, readers!

I am encouraged by this very accessible and readable summary of much research in the field of gut microbiome composition, probiotics, prebiotics, and mental wellness. It’s by the American Society for Microbiology: Of Microbes and Men: Eating for Mental Wellness.

It basically reinforces what other studies referenced in this blog have underlined, which is that the science on how to precisely manipulate one’s microbiome to enhance mental health is not yet there, but eating fiber, colorful fruits and veggies, and perhaps eating fermented foods (which contain active cultures) might all help to promote a gut microbiome that is generally better for mental wellness than otherwise.

I apologize for not updating this site more often; it’s a long story as to why but I have been struggling a fair bit with bipolar disorder as well as attempting to finish old projects and start promising new ones, and those are not really in the field of medical microbiology. I am very interested in pursuing this research project still (Project: Cancer-Fighting Gut Bacteria), but I still lack funds and actual support when it comes to writing grants that could fund the work I have in mind.

If an opportunity opens up I will take advantage of it, but for now the project is on ice.

Hi, so sorry for the hiatus in finding and posting new articles of interest. I have been fairly ill (I am bipolar) for about a year now. I am finding coping strategies and filling in a backlog of work that is overdue, and that has to come before work on this site.

As for Project: Cancer-Fighting Gut Bacteria, the lack of success in getting funding means that I probably am going to simply publish the hypothesis and some preliminary information and let other labs take on the task of investigating it. I’m updating the references in the hypothesis paper I’ve already written and then I will start sending it to journals that might be appropriate.

I am finding more energy as time goes on and I seem to be on a road to recovery, so I hope to be back to posting articles about new work soon. There apparently are a lot of articles discussing probiotics but not issues with how an ingested probiotic might establish, which suggests to me that medical teams are grabbing bacteria and developing projects without talking to microbial ecologists first.

I have a lot to say about that and will be working on that next- a commentary article which will either go here or to whichever journal might take it. There are frankly so many articles on probiotics and the gut microbiome that the breadth of the field is overwhelming. There might already be reviews out on how probiotics can best establish in the crowded gut ecosystem, but I haven’t found these yet. One of the things I hope to do is search for them and publish a summary of the most accessible one I can find.

Thank you for looking at my site and I hope you found something of interest here.

Liz

This is very encouraging! The sort of work I have in mind would not involve fecal microbiome therapy (transplants like the ones described in this article), but recent work has shown that there is promise in using FMT in treatments of cancers.

The article is written in plain language and so I’m not going to summarize it here. Suffice it to say that if I had my way I’d look at mechanisms of how the organism I have been trying to study (a Lactobacillus johnsonii strain) works, and try to develop therapies that don’t involve transferring an entire microbiome but instead target specific actions of strains like my L. johnsonii one to obtain specific results.

 

Just received word that the funding my colleagues and I have applied for was not awarded- there was a two stage process in obtaining the funding and we did not move on to the next stage. I was expecting this, as the program was quite competitive (and they did mention literally thousands of entries), but it is disappointing nevertheless. I am hopeful that I’ll find a way, even through non-traditional means, to fund our work in future, though.

Have a great day!

Hello readers! I apologize, I haven’t added a link to a good research article in quite a long time.

This one, by Christian Jobin, was published earlier this year in Science. It’s essentially a summary of more detailed work that is referenced in the article, and I include it because the language is plainer than those works. Here is the link to the article: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6371/32.long. If you can’t download it for free from your library, try contacting the author to see if he will share a PDF (it is ridiculous the prices journals charge for paywalled articles, especially since authors are not only not paid, they often pay page charges for publication).

Essentially, the article describes work demonstrating that different cancer immunotherapies can be altered in the presence of different species of gut bacteria. We are not yet at a “This bug helps cancer immunotherapy, and this bug is bad for it” stage- and it is possible that an assortment of bacteria can all do similar things and have analogous effects on the human immune system. Right now we are at the stage of finding out a signal in one study for bug X and a signal in another study for bug Y, but people do not actually know what it is exactly about bugs X and Y that cause them to exert their effects. I have one hypothesis, others have other hypotheses, often supported by some data, and it will take another decade of research before we are past the kind of probiotic blitzing you see with fecal microbiome therapy (just replace everything) to the kind of targeted, very specific therapies designed to exert specific effects that some unscrupulous marketers are already claiming to sell.

It’s also very likely that a person’s genetic makeup influences all of this, as does their diet. So predicting the effects of any given bug X probiotic delivered to a human gut is right now not reliable- anyone claiming they can do this is probably trying to sell you something. Don’t buy it.

Most people reading this site probably want to know what they can do to help their immune system fight off disease, or stay healthy. I would argue that eating well (lots of fresh veggies, not too much processed meat, a reasonable amount of fibre, not too much sugar and fat), exercising, getting enough sleep, minimizing stress, and, if you want a probiotic, a dairy or nondairy yogurt containing live cultures is probably good enough for most people. I can’t really recommend a probiotic product, though lots of them are on the market and some might have been clinically tested by now. Most of them can’t hurt you, if used as directed, and if your immune system is not severely compromised, so talk to your doctor about giving one a try.

Unfortunately the granting agency I had found which we had submitted an LOI to did not choose for us to pursue the application further, and so it’s back to the drawing board. Luckily, I came across an opportunity with a large pharmaceutical company that, while competitive, seems even better than the last one. It’s due fairly soon and lucky for me, I have most of the materials for the initial application (it is again a two-stage process) ready to go.

It’s rather frustrating to me that this effort is taking so very long to take off. I’m almost certain that the ideas I had, which were novel and fresh in 2013-2014, are going to be thought of in parallel by other, better funded researchers with labs, and I’m losing the chance to work on them at all the longer this drags out.  I guess that’s just how things go, but it frustrates me to no end. How much amazing research is sidelined or neglected because a researcher with a good idea couldn’t raise the money?

I’m very happy to report that my collaborators and I have submitted a letter of intent (the first stage in the application process) for a basic grant from the Human Frontier Science Program. I am hopeful that they will let us proceed to the next stage. This would be badly needed funding for three years of work, so this is a big deal for this project.

My fingers are crossed- please cross yours on our behalf as well.

Update

Hello, readers! I came across a grant opportunity that would be appropriate for my collaborator and our project, and I am pursuing it. Wish me luck. I would much prefer this route of funding to trying something more bizarre.

Hello, readers! I have expertise in a variety of areas dealing with microscopic creatures and molecules, and in 2017 I was inspired to put together a series of topics which would make for an interesting series on science, science literacy, and current controversies like whether GMOs should be trusted, and why people deny climate science. One of the topics I plan to address is the trust people put into “quack” cures and how to differentiate between real research findings and marketing. Unfortunately, a lot of trusting people see key marketing words like “toxin” and “nutrient” and “clean food” and make all sorts of assumptions based on how those words are presented. There is a lot of misinformation circulating about probiotics, for example- people making all sorts of claims which can’t be substantiated without really large and repeated clinical trials.

It is my goal, in this blog (to an extent- I do not post as much as I should) and elsewhere to educate people. I really think that putting all the information I’ve outlined might result in a nonfiction book that will help interest people in these subjects and help arm them against marketing masquerading as science. I am calling the book idea Microcosmos (borrowing from Carl Sagan’s great TV series, Cosmos, which Seth MacFarlane magnificently rebooted several years ago), and yes, I think it would make a terrific TV series which covers more current information about pressing issues, especially those dealing with psychology and biology.

While I think doing basic research is important, I hope that if I produce a book (and, possibly, a set of scripts) that helps educate the general public, and in particular policy makers, I will be helping advance the cause of science literacy and promote more funding for science and science education.

I have not given up on Project: Cancer-Fighting Gut Bacteria, but I need to do something to either find a grant (this has so far been problematic, mostly because I do not have my own lab), a philanthropist/ venture capitalist (there is the possibility of IP from the project earning money), or to earn money myself somehow that is sufficient to pay for the expenses of the project in its planned next phase. As I have budgeted a significant amount of money toward research, I have to say that I am probably going to have to be flexible and creative in finding ways to fund the project.

 

Update

Hello, readers! I’m not able to say much about what I am doing now, but I have been working on a number of ideas and getting some feedback on them, as well as thinking of ways to fund the work.

Most of this is way outside the box, and if I’m able to raise funds quickly enough I’ve got enough connections to get this going.

Wish me luck!