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.
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!
I don’t post very often in this blog (alas) and I have noticed sometimes people poke around on this site, presumably because they find it interesting. I’m gratified, but I want to make sure if individuals who are not clinical researchers are looking into scientific literature about probiotics (or any other health issue) that they are equipped with enough knowledge to understand what they are reading.
Here is one paper that will be useful: How to read a clinical trial paper . It’s by Shail M. Govani, and Peter D. R. Higgins, both from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI.
As is the case with every microbiome paper I give links to in this site, I don’t actually know these people, but I’m confident that anyone wanting to learn more about how microbiome research (and probiotics) will benefit from giving the paper a quick read.
As for my personal Project: Cancer-Fighting Gut Bacteria, it is going on- I’ve finished a document that describes work on this project for potential funders, and I’ve also finished a more ambitious document that includes work designed to enhance sustainable agriculture (dealing with greenhouse gas emissions from soils and manure piles, and finding ways to remove insect pests while preserving pollinating species like honeybees).
It’s possible I might be able to work with Dr. Schiestl again in future- he says he would be pleased to work with me again- so if I go to UCLA and there are sufficient funds, I should be able to at least work on my cancer project. Finding partners for the other two projects is pretty easy, the largest question is finding funding.
The best thing about approaching these projects as if they were business projects is that I’ve come up with ideas for products based on the technology that could be developed- if I’m right about how all these systems work. Even if I’m right about one of the three, the intellectual property developed should be worth a fair bit of money to the right industrial partner. The potential return on investment is actually very high! So I am hopeful I can find a private funder who requires less red tape and will allow us to keep our intellectual property to ourselves (every time a grant is evaluated, a whole panel of people judge it and I doubt that every reviewer is able to keep from being influenced by what he or she is reading). It would be wonderful to be the first to claim patentable intellectual property regarding each of these projects.
Hello, readers- I’m currently on Day Two of an interesting (free!) videocast series from NIH on microbiome studies. You can find more information here.
In other news, I’ve written a hypothesis paper for my ideas stemming from my 2014 and subsequent work on Project: Cancer-Fighting Gut Bacteria, and I am both refining these ideas, and withdrawing the paper from publication (luckily, it was rejected for lack of data, which is amusing since it is a hypothesis paper, which by definition does not come bundled with much data! I am relieved, though, since this means I can continue on with my plans for this work). I’m not going to say much about my plans other than that I am seeking funding to test the hypothesis myself, probably at UCLA. Today’s sessions at the NIH meeting have been helpful in triggering new ideas, so I may add some new details to the experiments I had in mind.
Some additional news: there’s been a really interesting paper out last year which I only just came across, dealing with soil inoculants that limit greenhouse gas production in agricultural systems: paper here. This links to an idea I had earlier but had no resources to follow up on, and perhaps if my fundraising for my cancer project is successful, I can shunt some money toward work on nosZ+ soil or manure inoculants in North America.
With all the uncertainty about federal funds possibly freezing and potential issues with co-applying for an NIH grant with my UCLA colleague, I’ve been on the lookout for other potential sources of funding. We would not need as much as an R21 grant is capped at, substantially less, in fact, to do some additional preliminary studies- and the work, if successful, would make an advance that would in theory affect many more diseases and disorders, not just cancer.
I’ve found a few promising avenues and am awaiting instructions for how to apply. Real research is so much different from Hollywood movie research, where people are able to do a decade of work in under two hours. I rather wish things could be accelerated, but unless a kind philanthropist is willing to come out of the wings and offer a substantial amount of cash to my UCLA collaborator, I am afraid this work will have to stay in stasis while we continue to look for funding.
I am optimistic that these new smaller granting agencies will work out more satisfactorily than a NIH grant application would, though.
Hello readers: I’ve come across an interesting article from my own home university, the University of Guelph! It’s entitled “Stress and the microbiome: linking glucocorticoids to bacterial community dynamics in wild red squirrels“, and it’s fascinating because (a) wild animals were used, responding naturally to their environments, and (b) it shows a direct link between levels of stress, as measured by faecal glucocorticoid hormones, and the microbiome, which controls so many aspects of one’s health. The paper comes out of the lab of Amy E. M. Newman.
The analysis is a little crude- the authors only looked at diversity of bacteria in faecal samples, not composition of bacteria to find which bacteria changed in abundance with stress- but it’s very clear that the overall diversity of bacteria in the microbiome of the squirrels analyzed in the study (via collection of faecal pellets) dropped when those pellets had higher levels of glucocorticoid hormones (which are an indicator of stress response).
What does this mean for you? Well, it’s clear from many studies that stress negatively impacts your health, and the alteration of the gut microbiome in response to stress probably happens in people as well as squirrels. This may be one more mechanism by which our psyche is connected to our physiological state via the gut-brain axis.
It had to happen sooner or later- I’ve come across the buzzword “psychobiotic” (meaning a probiotic, or live bacterium, which when ingested can help treat symptoms of mental disorders) online, and now in a publication (Psychobiotics and the gut-brain axis: in the pursuit of happiness, by Zhou and Foster, a review in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment). In the abstract, the authors state that a combination of probiotics, antibiotics, and fecal microbiome transplants (the latter is a drastic step to take indeed!) might be used to treat mental illness.
I think it’s a little early to be jumping on this particular bandwagon. While it’s clear that there are links between brain and central nervous system function and the composition of microbiota in the gut, it is likely that host genetics plays a part, and until we know which specific gut bacteria to remove or enrich for, and have therapies designed for these purposes, really it’s just shooting randomly in the dark. We still don’t know enough. The pace of research in microbiome studies is rapid, though- and I anticipate having real, designed therapies (clinically proven ones- do not forget this criterion, it is important!) in the next decade, if not sooner.
Another good paper to look at, if you are interested in the gut-brain axis, is this one, by Foster and Neufeld, published in Cell: Gut-brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression. Most of the work they write about has been conducted in mice. I myself can’t find a single study on bipolar disorder and the human gut microbiome- if anyone wants to use me as a subject in such a study I’d be happy to volunteer! I notice links between what I eat and how I feel, both physically and psychologically. While it is possible that the food directly links these phenomena, it is also possible that food influences gut bacterial composition and activity, and then the changed microbiome has effects on my physiology and brain.
Merry Christmas, if you celebrate, and if you do not, I hope you have a nice day.
Hello readers! I apologize for the lack of posts- I’ve been devoting my spare time to a novel I’ve been writing, as well as a number of grant applications. One of them is for an NIH R21 for Project: Cancer-Fighting Gut Bacteria.
Earlier this week I experienced a bout of food poisoning, and at the same time an intensification of symptoms associated with my bipolar disorder. This made me think of the articles I had been posting on this site and once I recovered, and looked through my notes for Project: Cancer-Fighting Gut Bacteria, I realized that I needed to find more articles on probiotics and whether they establish in the gut, as well as whether they have any beneficial effects on diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, and how they work.
The results of this search, which I conducted over several hours tonight, have been fruitful! I share with you the URLs for three of the most accessible articles I have come across.
First of all, an older article but a good one that’s been cited more than 400 times: Probiotics: determinants of survival and growth in the gut. Essentially, the take home message is that, while probiotics can have beneficial effects on controlling things like diarrhoea, and can survive transit of the stomach into the lower GI tract, there’s no evidence they actually establish in the intestines- they seem to exert their effects while passing on through. This suggests that in order to get a beneficial effect from probiotics, you might have to keep taking them consistently.
Here’s a newer article on the same subject: A Meta-Analysis of Probiotic Efficacy for Gastrointestinal Diseases. This article summarizes research from a lot of other articles, all studies of the effects of probiotics on different diseases. The take-home message is that, for most probiotic bacterial strains and diseases, taking probiotics can help- but there are some diseases that are not as well treated, and some bacterial strains that are less effective. Quoting from the abstract, “Six of the eight diseases: Pouchitis, Infectious diarrhea, Irritable Bowel Syndrome,Helicobacter pylori, Clostridium difficile Disease, and Antibiotic Associated Diarrhea, showed positive significant effects. Traveler’s Diarrhea and Necrotizing Enterocolitis did not show significant effects of probiotcs. Of the 11 species and species mixtures, all showed positive significant effects except for Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, andBifidobacterium infantis.” The last sentence is important, since L. acidophilus is typically found in yogurts, and if this is the only strain in your probiotic preparation, or the main strain, it might not be as effective as you’d like against a disease. There still may be other health benefits, just not necessarily control of disease.
A very useful article with a lot of really nice figures that explain in detail how probiotic bacteria exert their effects on you (it might be a bit too technical, but it is open access so there’s no harm in taking a look) is this one: Effects of probiotics on gut microbiota: mechanisms of intestinal immunomodulation and neuromodulation. It talks a bit about the gut-brain axis, which is of particular interest to me (especially this week, given my health issue from earlier), and it also talks about how gut bacteria can affect your immune system. There also is a bit of discussion of how dietary compounds (like histidine, glutamate, and dietary fibre) lead to the production of compounds that affect your metabolism (like short-chain fatty acids (important for colon health), gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA, a neurotransmitter) and histamine (influences inflammation and immune responses).
I apologize for being absent from this blog for so long and I hope you enjoy these articles- all are or should be open access, but if you have problems accessing any of them write to me and I will see if I can help you find a PDF.
Several of my friends suffer from fibromyalgia. I wondered if there was a possible link between the fatigue and muscle pain (myalgia) they suffer, and I found this interesting article from the Journal of the American Medical Association, authored by Henry C. Lin: “Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth: a framework for understanding irritable bowel syndrome“.
Now, bear with me, this article is not just about irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)- in the abstract it mentions, at the very end, how the distinction between small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and IBS may focus on a specific set of symptoms that exclude fatigue and muscle pain, while diagnoses of chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia are focused mainly on these symptoms. The authors of the article suggest that this distinction may be academic- an artefact of medical training- and put forth the idea that maybe all these various symptoms can be traced to a single cause, namely, gut dysbiosis (here specifically focusing on small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).
This is a hugely important and interesting idea, and taken along with the article I have mentioned in my preceding post, a review of the gut-brain axis (where changes in gut microflora can result in psychological changes), gut dysbiosis (unhealthy gut microflora) may contribute not only to symptoms like muscle pain and fatigue, but to mood disorders as well.
The obvious question for people suffering from these symptoms is, how can I fix my gut microbiome, if it might be unhealthy? This is a hugely important question. Right now research is focusing on finding “good guy bacteria” that can help maintain healthy states, but it’s important to remember that it’s not enough to simply take a probiotic- if you take bacteria and add them to an environment where they can’t grow and establish, they will simply pass right on through your intestines without making much of a change. It’s known that factors such as what you eat, how much and when you exercise, how much and when you sleep, and if you’ve become sick (food poisoning, for example) will all affect the composition of your gut microflora. Establishing a healthy microbiome will probably require that you follow a doctor’s advice with all these factors and do so in a steady, long-term fashion- not that you simply take a probiotic supplement or eat fancy bacteria-containing yogurt.
[UPDATE: There are a TON of quack websites out there which claim to have miracle diets or cures for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO): if you read anything like that, stop! It’s fake! It won’t help and might harm you. SIBO treatments have to be custom-tailored for each person. Please take the above cited article and this one to a real medical doctor, not a naturopath, and if you look at websites make sure they are from reputable, accredited medical schools.]
In future, I am hoping that work based on ideas I have might help people whose gut microbiomes are unhealthy and, for whatever reason, can’t take probiotics, or in whom probiotics are not effective (probably because the gut environment is hostile to those added bacteria). Right now I am focusing on an interesting strain of Lactobacillus that helps fight lymphoma, but the lessons I learn from this organism may help me study ways to use other gut bacteria with different kinds of effects on human health, to help a lot more people.