Microbes under the microscope during World Microbiome Day

World leaders: The UNSW Microbiome Research Centre team. Picture: Supplied
World leaders: The UNSW Microbiome Research Centre team. Picture: Supplied

The first microbiome research centre in Australia, which is based at St George Hospital, will celebrate the vibrant and diverse world of microbes today to mark World Microbiome Day on Saturday, June 27.

Microbes - the name given to the enormous collection of microorganisms that live within and on our bodies - include bacteria, archaea, viruses, protozoa and fungi.

In recent years, medical researchers have turned to the study of microbes to unlock the secrets of health and disease.

The St George Hospital-based UNSW Microbiome Research Centre is a comprehensive world-class research centre solely dedicated to studying microbiota.

Since officially opening last year, its 32-strong team has expanded its collaborative research agenda to include more than 90 projects.

The St George & Sutherland Medical Research Foundation was instrumental in the formation of the centre and was last year awarded a Medical Research Future Fund accelerated research grant of $2 million by the federal government's Department of Health.

This grant will support two microbiome studies, the MothersBabies study and the Healthy Optimal Australian Microbiome (HOAM) study, each for two years.

Centre director, UNSW Professor of Medicine Emad El-Omar, said the MothersBabies study examined how a mother's health affected a baby.

Professor El-Omar said determining how to prevent or treat disease from pre-pregnancy and into childhood had the potential for positive health outcomes for future generations.

"Clearly the translational impact of this research will take several years to be fully realised but our agenda is very clear: to improve the health and well-being of Australians," Professor El-Omar said.

Another study now under way, The Building Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Research Capacity - The St George and Sutherland IBD Project, will see the creation of a database to help improve treatments and patient care for sufferers.

SSMRF chief executive Leanne Dib said the foundation was proud to support the Microbiome Research Centre.

To celebrate World Microbiome Day, the centre has planned several activities including interviews, daily microbiome facts, and a five-day microbiome quiz.

INTERESTING FACTS

  • The enteric (gut) nervous system is made up of approximately 500 million neurons that communicate through the same neurotransmitters as the central nervous system.
  • Antibiotics given in early life, have been shown to alter the gut microbiota and may shift the bacterial profile towards one that promotes obesity, metabolic dysfunction and autoimmune diseases.
  • Faecal microbiota transplants are very effective in curing recurrent clostridioides difficile infection and are being explored as a treatment for many conditions, including obesity and mental health disorders.

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